Nursing student finds inspiration in silent cause

Joy Hallare / The Collegian

Miriam Mahfoud struggled with deciding on a major while in high school. She eventually decided on nursing after she visited a small orphanage in a rural village in Cambodia. The 19 year old was on a missions trip with her church.

While in Cambodia, Mahfoud spent most of her time playing with the local children. She said that she became filled with compassion during her time there after noticing that several of the children were disease stricken or had deformities.

She knew that she wanted to do something for children. To help in some way.

While in her high school anatomy class, Mahfoud said she fell in love with how complex and intricate the human body could be.

This love for anatomy combined with her desire to help those less fortunate, prompted Mahfoud to become a registered nurse.

She began her college career as one of the youngest students in the nursing program on campus. The sophomore plans to graduate in fall 2012.

Mahfoud, a nursing major and American Sign Language (ASL) minor, became interested in ASL while sitting in her chemistry class watching an interpreter translate the class to another student.

Her ASL minor is currently on hold for the semester because the classes did not fit in with her schedule. However, she says that she plans to continue with ASL 3 next fall. To keep her skills sharp, she says that she practices with her friends so that she doesn’t forget what she’s already learned.

As if being a nursing student wasn’t enough for Mahfoud, she is also involved with several organizations, including: the ASL club, the Recycling club and she recently joined the California Nursing Student Association (CNSA). She also works on campus at the University Courtyard in the marketing office and has done so for more than a year.

Mahfoud also volunteers at her church to help run a café that supports students who want to go on mission trips.

Despite her lack of spare time, she said that she enjoys being with her three sisters, baking and going to the local frozen yogurt shop with her friends just about every Friday.

Q: What did you find intriguing about the use of an interpreter in your class?

A: I was just amazed. An interpreter was able translate a semester’s worth of chemistry without words! I was mesmerized by how quickly the interpreter’s hands would fly about and translate the lecture.

Q: What made you decide that you wanted to make deaf studies your minor?
A: After that chemistry class I knew I wanted to at least take ASL 1 (introductory class). I had a fantastic teacher, Annette Klein, and ended up loving it so much that I signed up for ASL 2. I decided to minor in deaf studies for a few reasons. First off, I knew I wanted to become fluent in ASL and achieve my certificate in conversational ASL by the time graduate. I also learned about the lack of interpreters and misconceptions about the deaf community in my ASL classes, which further inspired me to make this my minor. And although I don’t plan on becoming an interpreter, being fluent in ASL could be really beneficial for myself and deaf or hard of hearing clients in the hospital setting.

Q: Will you incorporate it into your career or do you want to do something with it on the side?
A: My intention is to incorporate it and use my skills in ASL. I have been researching the opportunities with nursing and sign language and although I have not found anything specific, there seems to be a need. I have heard of some nursing positions that require ASL and hospitals or clinics with mostly deaf or hard of hearing clientele. As of right now I am just focusing on one thing at a time. Right now I am just trying to get through the nursing program and finish my minor. I will continue to look for any opportunities or places in need of a nurse fluent in sign language. However, I am sure I will encounter deaf patients in any registered nurse position.

Q: Was this the first time you found an interpreter interesting or was it something you’ve always found intriguing?
A: I always thought sign language was an amazing way to communicate, but I was never really exposed to it or had any deaf friends or family that used it. I became really interested in my first semester of college, in that chemistry class.

Q: What’s the hardest thing about ASL? What’s the most fun?
A: The hardest part for me is sentence structure. Many people think that ASL is just like English except with symbols and hand motions for each word, but it’s not. It is its own language. For example, in sign, emotion and expressions, such as raising or lowering your eyebrows, has different grammatical meaning. I have found that sign language is more than hand movements but an intimate and expressive language that uses emotion in a way that oral communication sometimes lacks. A few of my friends are minoring in deaf studies as well, so we enjoy practicing with each other and signing in quiet places such as class or the library.

Q: What do you hope to gain from the deaf studies minor and what do you hope to learn?
A: In nursing, communication and developing a nursing-client relationship is so important in giving optimum care. By increasing my knowledge of deaf culture and becoming fluent in sign, I will be able to enhance the quality of care I give for a larger group of clients. I understand that learning Spanish may be more beneficial, especially in California, but I feel that the deaf community is often underrepresented and hospitals may lack the staff needed to better care for deaf patients.

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