A Different Kind of Medicine Woman

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A Navajo graduate from Pima Medical Institute in Albuquerque becomes a different type of Medicine Woman.

Nona Mann-Frank knew she wasn’t going to be a Medicine Woman in the traditional Navajo sense, but the desire to work in medicine was too strong for her to ignore. Rather than forget about pursuing a vocation in healthcare, Nona enrolled in the Pharmacy Technician program at Pima Medical Institute, 2201 San Pedro NE, Building 3, Suite 100 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now the former honor student is filling prescriptions, answering patient’s questions in both the English and Navajo language, and working as a registered and certified Pharmacy Technician at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

It has not been an easy road for the 31-year-old Klagetoh resident. Her commute from the small community outside of Ganado, Arizona to Fort Defiance is an hour each way. However, she said she is happy to have meaningful work, gain experience in her field, and help others. In addition to her training at Pima Medical Institute, the Pharmacy Technician earned a Bachelor of Science degree and hopes to travel to different hospitals and clinics throughout the reservation as a drug representative one day.

After graduating from PMI in 2001, Nona worked at a mail order pharmacy in Albuquerque. While she acknowledges it was helpful to gain experience in her field, she felt as confined as the boxed pharmaceuticals she shipped off. Most of her days were spent behind a computer or talking on the phone. Her job at the busy hospital is just the opposite.

"I move around a lot more here at Fort Defiance and I talk to a lot more people," said Nona. "I enjoy helping others. I try to give 100 percent in everything I do - even something as simple as answering the phone. I think to myself, what if I were in that person’s shoes and had a question I needed answered? How would I want to be treated? That’s how I approach everything I do."

Nona admits some of her friends give her a hard time about her education, her work ethic and even how she dresses for work.

"My friends tease me and say I look more like the pharmacy mascot than a pharmacy tech," she said with a faint smile. She is dressed in a dark blue blouse, her dark hair flawlessly pulled on top of her head in a bun. "I dress casually on Friday, but the rest of the week I like to wear business attire. I worked very hard to get where I am and dressing the part helps me maintain a professional attitude."

Nona admits that a significant part of her work ethic and professionalism developed later in life.

"I was an average student and I did my share of partying in high school and even in college," she said. "But I realized I wasn’t going to get ahead if I didn’t apply myself. I made a rule for myself. No partying during school time."

Nona’s mother, was also a positive force in her life.

"My mother doesn’t believe in excuses," she said. "She taught my sister and me that if you start something, finish it. Don’t leave things half done. There is a lot of weight and burden on you emotionally when you leave things undone. You think you’ve walked away from it, but really it’s always there in the back of your mind weighing you down."

The "no excuses" motto helped Nona during her time as a student at Pima Medical Institute. She was in an automobile accident and suffered extensive damage to her knee. She only took off a week or two - time enough to have surgery and receive a release from her doctor. Her classmates brought her homework and as soon as she was able, the determined Navajo woman hobbled off to class on crutches. She graduated with honors.

"My mom taught me that you have to be responsible and not blame others," said Nona. "She had a rough time too. She was a single mom. My dad died when I was about four. But, she never believed in making excuses. When I was in high school she warned me about drinking alcohol. She told me not to give the excuse that my friends made me do it. She would tell me, they didn’t pry your mouth open and pour it down your throat. It’s a choice you make. You can make the choice to walk away."

Nona believes pursuing an education has brought her a new perspective and discipline that has helped her succeed. Her advice to other Navajos is to make the most of the educational options that are available to everyone.

"We all have the same opportunity. I don’t think there are valid reasons to not get educated. Most of the time we use financial liabilities to avoid getting an education, but if you want it, there are many students loans available. Believe me, they want to loan you money."

Although Nona is determined to reach her goals, she admits she acquired a great deal of her dedication later in life.

"When I was younger I just wanted to get out of high school and not look back," she said. "But now I’m glad I did go back, even though I have student loans to repay. I would encourage other Navajos to do the same. Even if it takes a few years to do it, you’re never too old to go to school."

Nona’s advice to her fellow Navajos is twofold.

"Remember, success begins with failure. If you fail, wipe the dust off your shoulder, try again and don’t give up until you get what you wanted."

Her second suggestion comes from the class motto of the 1993 class of Ganado High School. Know from where you come and there are no limits to where you can go.

Nona may not be a Medicine Woman in the traditional Navajo sense, but her philosophy to get an education, work hard and not make excuses seems to just what the doctor ordered for pursuing a healthy and fulfilling career in healthcare.

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Sally Marks
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