UW News

November 8, 2007

Pediatric students learn Hutterite approach to health care

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Third-year medical students in the Great Falls, Mont., pediatrics clerkship have several opportunities to learn about health in the community, in addition to training at hospitals and clinics.

Among these is a visit to the Fairhaven Hutterite Colony in Ulm, Mont., about 20 miles away.

The colony’s business manager, his wife, and Dr. Jeffrey Hinz, a WWAMI clinical associate professor of pediatrics, set up the program several years ago for medical students to ask about the Hutterites’ approach to obtaining health care, paying for treatment, and rearing their children.

The Hutterites own farms, use modern equipment, and share all property in common. Meals are eaten in a central dining hall. Montana, eastern Washington, and western Canada have several Hutterite colonies.

The Fairhaven Colony business manager’s wife noted that rural Northwest doctors may sometimes see Hutterites, but may not know about their way of life. Many people don’t realize, she said, that they use clinics, hospitals, and hospices. The elderly and disabled usually are cared for at home, but sometimes move to nursing facilities outside the colony.

In Hutterite communities, the wife of the colony leader usually serves as a community health advocate and advisor for other families. For example, she checks children’s ears for infections, and counsels on when to see a doctor. The WWAMI Great Falls pediatric site and some of its medical students have prepared an instruction sheet for several Hutterite colonies in Montana warning about unsafe or ineffective folk medicine that shouldn’t be used.

Each colony pools their resources to pay for medical care. The colonies run their own schools for children and apprenticeships for older teens. Children have a lot of play time, do simple chores, and swim in the colony pool.

The manager’s wife said the colony enjoys the medical students’ visit, and the students say they learn a great deal from the experience.