When Catherine Lasperches walks into an examination room at the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic or meets a patient in the hall, she enthusiastically greets them using their first name. Since so many of her clients are known exclusively by their nicknames, their response, she says, is often, ‘Oh, only my mother calls me this way.’” Immediately, a warmth is established.
Lasperches, who was born in France and moved to New Orleans in 1989, has worked as a nurse practitioner at the clinic since 2004. Her love of jazz brought her to the Crescent City and her involvement with the music—studying it, interviewing and meeting artists, going out to hear jazz—has served her well in understanding the needs of her clients.
“When I started the people that I knew on the music scene became my patients,” says Lasperches. “It was like closing the circle and that was a nice touch.”
Lasperches understands that most musicians work on a freelance basis and thus haven’t had the luxury of paid health insurance. Many—if not most—don’t enjoy high-paying jobs or regular paychecks. So routine check-ups weren’t really on their agenda. They would go to the doctor or check in at an emergency room purely out of necessity.
“That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to make sure that they come in and not wait until they get sick because then it gets complicated,” she explains. “You have to educate and you have to teach them about prevention and to not be afraid of getting free care,” she offers, explaining that for some, getting involved in the system can be worrisome. “You have to tell them the same thing over and over until they get it done. I don’t give up. Then they tell me how grateful they are and say, ‘Thank you for being like my mother.’”
Lasperches’ lively personality and caring demeanor makes going to the Musicians’ Clinic—where everyone is friendly and helpful—feel much like seeing a family doctor of old. Her clients aren’t strangers to her; they are a community to which she belongs. She’s aware that some artists perform a physically challenging seven shows a week on Bourbon Street or deal with dental issues that hamper their ability to play and make a living. She expresses her extreme thankfulness that she is able to refer her clients to a dentist or a specialist if the situation calls for it. “That allows us to provide the best care that we can because we have access to public and private services,” she says.
“You know my patients call me Dr. Catherine though I’m not an MD—and I like it,” she confides. “I’m familiar with musicians’ lives and personalities so it’s comfortable for me and for them.”
Lasperches, who most simply call Catherine, likens her job to being a detective. “I’m very good at asking questions. I like to know the details. I like to know their stories. I want to know everything. I’m curious. I’m never bored. I’m interested and every time it’s a new adventure with a patient. And I learn from my patients and I hope that I can use everything I learn to give back to the other patients.”
“I think my patients like that I’m French,” Catherine says with the laugh that often sprinkles her conversations. “I think it makes it more enjoyable. The artists are interesting people; they travel, they go to my country more than I do. They come back and ask me to translate newspaper clips. When [Cajun accordionist] Bruce Daigrepont comes in we speak French because it’s fun. So the relationships go way beyond just New Orleans.”
Outside of the Musicians’ Clinic, Lasperches was recognized for her importance to the community by the folks at HBO, who cast her in “Treme,” where she, of course, played herself. “I was glad I got to do my own lines because I’m terrible at memorizing,” she readily admits. “I would be a bad actress.”
Before Lasperches’ arrival in New Orleans, she worked as a registered nurse in Paris and Tahiti. After work as a teaching assistant in the French department at the University of New Orleans, and in other French-related jobs, Ochsner Hospital hired her; subsequently she received her green card, allowing her to work in the country. She earned her nurse practitioner’s degree in 1999.
Great luck and superb timing facilitated Lasperches’ hiring at the Musicians’ Clinic. She was looking for a job and attended a nurse practitioner convention that just happened to be in New Orleans. There she was introduced to the person who was leaving the position at the clinic and was informed that they were looking for a replacement. Lasperches couldn’t be more grateful to Bethany Bultman—the founder, in 1998, of the Musicians’ Clinic—for hiring her.
“It’s really a privilege that I can do things that I like,” Catherine says with her typical sincerity and enthusiasm. “I can’t really separate my work and my life. I couldn’t do this job anywhere else in the world. So it’s very unique to me. That’s the beauty of the job.”