Guest Column: Navajo nurses – providing care to patients the Diné way

By Ruth Kawano
MSN, RN, Retired
U.S. Air Force, U.S. Public Health Service

The theme of this year’s National Nurses Week is “Culture of Safety, It Starts with You.”

National Nurses Week is May 6-12 of every year. May 8th is also National Student Nurses Day for all nursing students working on a degree in nursing. This year’s theme speaks to creating a culture of safety in our hospitals, clinics, and overall nursing care.

Recently, I have been reading blurbs of how many Native and Diné students are now enrolled in nursing and graduating from universities and colleges. I have heard from mostly young women graduating from high school that they want to major in nursing. That makes me excited and hopeful for our Navajo Nation.

We have so much to do. Caring for our people here has its challenges and rewards. Every ounce of caring is needed from us as nurses. No matter how tired we can be, no matter how many things we have to do and how little time we have, we make it happen.

We are compassionate caregivers. We are teachers and educators. We are patient advocates, acting on their behalf when things go awry. We are mentors, lifesavers and healers who empower patients guiding them towards healthy behaviors and support them in time of need.

We celebrate when there is a birth. We provide dignity to dying patients and their families, easing their pain. We are responsible for medications, for treatments, and numerous other daily nursing care. We are there with them as soon as they hit our doors whether they are in the clinic, in our hospital, or in the field. We do all of these things while maintaining safety for our patients.

Recently at a conference, a young Diné woman asked the audience of nurse leaders how she can incorporate Diné culture in her nursing. She was reassured that when she practices nursing for Diné people, she is applying it but she may not be aware of it now. She may not speak Diné, but she can learn the language and culture from her family, which we all know is not an easy task. The Diné culture necessitates vast amounts of knowledge and teachings.

“The knowledge is there but it is up to the individual to grasp it,” was the medicine man’s response to the question. How much knowledge is required to be an effective and safe Diné nurse?

As Diné nurses, we provide all we can to our patients in hopes of realizing Hozho – the state of order, balance, and beauty. We use building blocks, concepts such as Nitsáhákees (Thinking), Nahatá (Planning), Iiná (Life), and Siihasin (Hope, Reflection) in our daily nursing care.

Comparatively, nursing students learn the western nursing process concepts of assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation. How fulfilling would it be if all our Diné nurses spoke the language and were knowledgeable about their culture?

We want our patients to be able to understand their care, their treatment options, and to feel safe. Being knowledgeable in the Navajo or Diné culture is a measure of safety in our patient care areas.

So are we as new or experienced nurses creating a culture of safety? Do our nursing students learn about safety in the nursing schools and hospitals? I sure hope so.
Lastly, let’s congratulate our new graduates from nursing schools and honor all nurses across the Navajo Nation and beyond.

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Categories: Guest Essay