March Volunteer Spotlight: Charlene Berke

For our March volunteer spotlight, we are recognizing Charlene Berke from Yankton, South Dakota!

Charlene Berke has been an NPAF volunteer since 2015. A licensed radiation therapist, Charlene has worked over 30 years in the healthcare field, including as a director of her local cancer center. She is currently a resident of Yankton, South Dakota and knows the unique challenges and needs of patients who live in a rural community.

Describe the advocacy work that you’re doing in your community and what motivated you to start.

I began volunteering in the patient advocacy community when I was in Grand Forks, North Dakota, while trying to meet people in my new career as a radiation therapist. Over the next 30 years, my volunteerism continued to grow.

I started volunteering for NPAF in 2015, when I was asked to testify before a Senate Committee in South Dakota, fighting for oral/IV parity for cancer medication. Following that, I became more active as I was looking for additional resources for cancer patients during my tenure as director at the local cancer center, the Avera Queen of Peace. In addition to volunteering for NPAF and with the Patient Insight Institute, I currently volunteer for over half a dozen organizations and serve on the policy committee for the South Dakota Radiologic Society.

Living and working in a rural state and community, I’m often reminded that there are additional unmet needs people in my community face, beyond their current healthcare challenge, that impact their quality of life. The majority of the people in my community travel 50 to 100 miles to seek medical care or cancer treatment(s). I hear from patients and community members who are faced with physical, psychosocial, and practical challenges — such as financial or transportation issues — as part of their healthcare journey. Volunteering has always been important to me because it is my way of having an impact on my community and profession.

What advice would you give to other volunteers who would like to do something similar?

Listen to as many people who share their challenges with you. It is only when we listen with a purpose, can we start to help in each of our roles as advocates.

People choose to volunteer for many reasons, I do it because I want to make a positive impact on the lives in the communities in which I work, live and play. Being a volunteer in many organizations has brought me much joy and many friends to my life. I have friends all over the United States whom I’ve been able to keep in contact with over the years.  It is also how I met my husband.

Since you’ve been a volunteer with NPAF, what are some of the things you are most proud of?

I am proud of the opportunities I’ve had through NPAF to have attended past Patient Congresses and meet with my legislators to advance access to palliative care and, more recently, to educate Senator Thune’s staff on the importance of Needs Navigation. I am also currently serving as a patient partner for the COVID-19 Learning Community, a PCORI-supported project through the Patient Insight Institute.

Creating a Shared Future: Eliminating Bias in Treatment and Access

Please join us for an incredible event featuring keynote speaker Dr. Don Berwick as we discuss the remarkable advancements in modern medical treatments -- and who will actually have access to them.