Blending Traditional and Western Medicine
In her present work Beverly Patchell, Cherokee, RN, MS, CNS, draws on her rich experiences in traditional, allopathic (western), and alternative medicine. She is on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma School of Nursing where she is the project director for the American Indian Nursing Student Success Program, site coordinator for the Bridges to the Doctorate Program, and co-director of the Center for Cultural Competency and Healthcare Excellence. She also teaches courses in traditional medicine, alternative medicine, culture, and spirituality.
Her wisdom about nursing and indigenous healing is recognized in her work as a community consultant on this topic to the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian and to the National Library of Medicine. Patchell is the current president of the National Alaska Native American Indian Nurses Association (NANAINA).
In addition to speaking engagements and many other activities, Patchell also manages to continue her own private practice. “I have a holistic practice,” she explains. “It’s close enough to traditional that some people from other tribes have me come in and work with their tribe for a couple of days. Usually I do some group work that includes explaining some of what I do. Then for another day or two I work with people individually. Sometimes a half a dozen people will drive together here to Oklahoma City for the weekend. I spend as much time with them as we need.” As part of her practice, Patchell also cares for people in her local community including students who need extra help with stress and learning issues. Faculty sometimes also turn to her for stress-related issues.
Foundations of Her Practice
The foundation for Patchell’s holistic practice began for her as a child growing up in Tahlequah, located in the Cherokee Nation. “There were many healers in my family and community,” Patchell remembers. “Most people could do some kind of healing. Like now, everyone had things that they specialized in.”
Patchell married and moved to Oklahoma City where she and her husband had two sons. Later she decided to go back to school. “My family suggested that I call Martha Primeux, Cherokee, a family friend,” Patchell remembers. “Martha, one of the founders of NANAINA was then an assistant dean at OU [University of Oklahoma] in the School of Nursing. Martha suggested that I be a nurse. That idea fit. I had enjoyed some work I had done as a nurse’s aid. Martha became my mentor.”
Toward the end of nursing school, Patchell discovered that she was drawn to working with people (particularly children and youth) with mental health issues. After receiving her BSN in 1978 from OU, she worked in an adult and adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit in St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City. While earning her master’s degree with a major in psychiatric/mental health nursing, she began working at Willow View Hospital where she eventually was clinical director of the inpatient children’s unit. During this period, she also received her certification as a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatric/mental health nursing of adolescents and children.
While Patchell was at Willow View Hospital, she began her private practice with children and young adolescents. She worked with children of military people who were being deployed to Dessert Storm. She also cared for children in a local school district.
Returning to Cherokee Nation
A key point in her developing career was when she and her family returned to Cherokee Nation where she first served as a family therapist and then program director of the Jack Brown Center Native American Adolescent Treatment Center that serves Indian people from all over the U.S. “My training was in talk therapy, but I realized that talk therapy didn’t work with Native people because of the belief that you give power to whatever you speak. They believe that talking about pain, despair, fear or anger gives power to these feelings, so they don’t talk about them. I knew this from my own family, but until this time it hadn’t clicked with me that talk therapy wouldn’t work.
“I started to do story telling because you can talk indirectly about a person’s concern through animals, trees, objects, and mythical things. That worked in groups because someone always picked up the thread. But when I was working with only one person who didn’t want to talk, I had to be creative and more indirect. With these individuals and also with groups, we did drumming, dancing and art and spent time in nature. We did things that helped the youth feel connected to whatever they felt disconnected from.”
Patchell next did staff training and development for all the employees of Cherokee Nation, not just health providers. Her work took her to facilities all over the nation and included a project for keeping people out of nursing homes.
In Cherokee Nation Patchell continued her private practice and worked with and learned from medicine people. In her search for ways to reach Indian people she took classes in a type of energetic therapy.
In 1998 for family reasons Patchell had to return to Oklahoma City. First she went into practice with one of her teachers. Then she set up her own practice, incorporating all that she had been learning.
Over the years Patchell had supervised OU nursing students in the settings in which she cared for patients. In 2000 she was hired to direct the American Indian Nursing Student Success Program. “Part of the position involves recruiting students and occasionally supervising students in Cherokee Nation. I had been missing being in my community so that was one of the reasons I accepted the position.”
The Success Program and Patchell’s many other activities have been flourishing in her care. Patchell herself is filled with healing energy and is an inspiration to many people.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2007 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Bunky Echo-Hawk, Yakama/Pawnee.)