Nurses Teach and Learn from Native Americans

Wednesday, Dec 03, 2014

Guest blogger Kim Mikula, RN, BSN, CEN, of Doylestown Hospital's Emergency Department, shares her experiences as part of an exchange program with Native Americans in New Mexico.

Editor's Note: Doylestown Hospital welcomed a group of Native American nursing students from the University of New Mexico (Gallup) in March. Several nurses from Doylestown Hospital traveled to New Mexico to complete the exchange in September. Kim Mikula was one of them.

Read the previous blog, Expanding Horizons One Nurse at a Time, about the nurse exchange.

The plans began in the spring of 2013. Americans for Native Americans (ANA) found a tremendous need for health screenings in the Native American elementary schools on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

Many Native American families will not subscribe to Western medicine. Without any school nurses and "medical care" being provided by non-medical personnel, the children are in need of screenings. These help identify deficiencies that may affect their academic progress as well as their overall health. The teachers also benefit from health screenings so they can adapt their classrooms to the needs of the children.

On September 7, 2014, after one and a half years of planning and fundraising, the first group of Doylestown Hospital nurses left for New Mexico. The group included Cherie Mee (ANA board member) and Emergency Department nurses Dottie Prior and Kim Mikula. We arrived one day early to see the area and learn some of the culture. Cherie was on the scouting trip in 2013 so she was our area expert.

Our first site was a to visit Window Rock, the site of the Code Talkers Memorial, and a 3-hour tour Canyon de Chelly (Shay). Our tour guide gave us an amazing education on Native American customs and traditions. We learned that a strong sense of patriotism is a long-standing part of that custom.

We spent the next three days at Baca/Dlo'Ay Azhi Community School, grades K-6th. Of the 349 students, we were able to complete 230 health screenings (the rest lacked permission slips). The health screenings consisted of height, weight, vision, hearing, and color blindness for all students as well as a partial scoliosis screening for grades 5 and 6.

We had the help of nine student nurses on the first day and eight student nurses on the third day from the University of New Mexico, Gallup. They were supervised by our Navajo contact and ANA board member Michele Kellywood-Yazzie, nursing professor at University of New Mexico, Gallup. We also trained 13 staff members on how to use the equipment so that one day they can be independent in completing the health screenings.

On our last day we were also able to visit an Acoma tribe village on the top of a mesa. It has no running water or electricity. Some of the families have generators but they are only allowed to run them for short periods of time and only on certain days of the year.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve, train, and learn about this culture that is so different from our own and yet such an integral part of our country's history. ANA looks forward to going back and expanding our goal to reach more children in more schools next year.

--Kim Mikula RN, BSN, CEN

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