CITY Many elderly Navajo patients have long withstood pain
or hesitated to see a doctor because they feared that what they
said wouldn't be understood. Compounding
the language barrier problem is that these same patients couldn't
understand what the doctor was telling them.
month, the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation took a huge
step in remedying this problem when 23 employees in 10 departments,
all women, received training as Navajo medical interpreters.
is a phenomenal class, just phenomenal," said Karen Muich, a registered
nurse and TCRHCC's nurse educator and facilitator of the course.
"It's a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
requirement to have interpreters that are educated to correctly
interpret for non-English-speaking patients. But we brought this
on even before we knew about that because it's the right thing to
course was taught here by Ida Bradley, RN, patient advocate, and
Margaret Whalawhitsa, health promotion coordinator, both whom work
at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock. Additional instructors
participating were Joann King, RN, public health nurse; Hazel Sherman,
dental assistant supervisor and Maeuneka Wero, health technician
with the Navajo Division of Health.
40-hour program requires more than just being fluent in the Navajo
language, Muich said. It means fully understanding the most important
aspect of medical carethe relationship between the doctor
interpreter serves as a bridge for communication," Muich said. "This
is achieved by first person interpretation rather than the former
third person interpreting."
that means, she explained, is that instead of saying "Mrs. Begay
says she has a stomach ache," a certified medical interpreter would
say more precisely in her own words, "The patient says, I
have a stomach ache.'"
addition to learning many Navajo words for many parts of human anatomy,
course participants gained insight into a patient's feelings and
fears and misconceptions regarding Western medicinal practices were
also discussed," Muich said. "A great deal of cultural information
about why there could be conflicts between Navajo culture and Western
medicine, fear of the unknown, was covered in depth."
June, a TCRHCC operating room medical support assistant, said she
worked at the hospital 20 years ago and has just recently returned.
that time, medical interpreting has really come about," she said.
"It should have been happening way back." She said the course also
dealt with issues of ethics, litigation and specifics terms in the
language of medicine.
ladies that did the training are very knowledgeable and knew what
they were doing," June said. "I got to learn a lot more about the
anatomy and say those terms in Navajo."
Cornfield, a surgical orthopedics certified nurse assistant, said
there are different ways to interpret many things. "The
Navajo language is different in different areas, from the eastern
side of the reservation to the western side," she said.
said her aunt taught her the Navajo words for many body parts while
butchering sheep growing up. Pauline, who has been at the hospital
for 39 years, says she needs to speak to patient in Navajo frequently
in her job. Bradley said the interpreter's curriculum comes from
the Cross Cultural Health Care Program in Seattle, Wash., and was
originally for formulated by Dr. Robert Putsch, a physician who
worked in Shiprock in the 1960s.
realized at that time there were some gaps in the interpreting,"
Bradley said. She said he noticed interpreters were adding, omitting
and changing what they were trying to get across. She said the Northern
Navajo Medical Center began to look for an interpreter's program
in 1998 and attended a presentation in Albuquerque called "Overcoming
Language Barriers to Health Care."
led to her becoming one of the first 10 trained Navajo medical interpreter
instructors in 2000. Now, there are 200 trained Navajo interpreters
throughout the Navajo Nation, Gallup and Flagstaff, she said. "This
course motivates people," Bradley said. "They realize they have
a lot of potential and want to go back to school. It's a real positive
courses earned the participants 40 hours of education. The nurse
education department will sponsor another course Nov. 17-21.
trained include: emergency roomArlene Nez, Joann Howard and
Leta Begay; operating roomJennifer June; pediatricsMarian
Brown and Theresa Mexican; obstetricsLinda Begay, Alberta
Nez; clinicsPauline Cornfield, Mabel Dawson, Sally Tahy and
Alvina Rosales; adult Care UnitSallie Begody, Verna Chee,
Lillie Bilagody and Alice Klain; post anesthesia care unit/short
stay surgeryGeneva Colorado; public healthGeraldine
Tohannie and Lillie Wilson; intensive care unitDiane Johnson,
Madelene Hudson and Leona John; medical recordsRose Coolie.
Hardeen is editor of "In Focus," the Tuba City Regional Health Care