| Alumni Profile • Ruthanne Reichert Taylor '81
So far away
In so many ways, Ruthanne Reichert Taylor ’81 is further from her life at Calvin than she ever imagined she would be.
“I was not a stellar student,” she admits. Taylor changed majors more than once and was turned down for Calvin’s nursing program; a professor told her she was probably not “degree material.” That, she said, “was my kick in the butt.” After graduating from Calvin, Taylor earned a BS, then later a master’s in nursing and a doctorate in nursing practice from Rush University.
Her nursing career began in Wyoming, aboard helicopters, airlifting victims of car and climbing and wildlife accidents to nearby emergency rooms. In her mid-30s, during her first trip abroad—to research high-altitude rescue helicopters being used in the Alps—Taylor “got bit by the travel bug.” From then on, she said, “I started looking for a chance to work overseas. I didn’t care where. I just wanted to travel.”
Since then Taylor has lived and worked in Votkinsk, Russia (“near Siberia and colder than west Michigan”), N’djamena, Chad (“hotter than Phoenix”), and is now in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Her sojourn on the edge of Siberia began in 1996 when she answered a private contractor’s ad to become the medical caregiver for nuclear weapons inspectors working under the START and INF treaties. “They didn’t tell me when I applied that I’d also be an inspector, reading the X-rays of missiles,” Taylor said.
Another unforeseen turn on that overseas tour was that Taylor met another contract employee and, two years later, married him.
After Russia, the pair looked for other opportunities to live abroad. They decided against working for any nonprofit projects because, Taylor said, “We were interested in the bigger policy picture. So the State Department seemed a good fit.”
After a lengthy application and security clearance process, in 2003 the Taylors were posted to a tiny embassy in the third-poorest country in the world: Chad. Shortly after their arrival, in next-door Sudan, the Darfur crisis erupted. When members of Congress began streaming in to see conditions for themselves, even Taylor, the embassy’s medical officer, was recruited to escort them to the refugee camps and to talk with them about the salient issues in the crisis.
When her two-year tour there was up, Taylor felt “totally disheartened”—with U.S. policy and the violence of the local culture itself. That, she said, “was a big reason I chose next to go to Nepal, because it’s largely a much more peaceful culture.”
Since July 2005, she has been the medical attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu. That means providing all medical care for the Americans and their families posted there—100 adults, 50 children—plus occupational health care for the 700 Nepalese employees. “I like the challenge of managing everything from dog bites and diarrhea to complicated med-evacs,” she said. “But being on call 24-7 takes its toll.”
From languages to the finer points of diplomacy, Taylor is learning “lots of stuff I never studied at Calvin.” Expanded, too, is her understanding of religious and spiritual questions. Having lived in Muslim, formerly Communist, Hindu and Buddhist cultures, she says, “It’s all gotten more simple, but also, for me, deeper and more truthful. I’m less worried now about the finer points of theological debate and more interested in how each religion teaches us to love each other.”
Taylor would be glad to answer any inquiries about working for the Foreign Service: TaylorRR2@state.gov or RuthanneRN@mac.com
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