Find Common Language: Medical Student’s Multilingual Talent Helps to Shape Precious Moment for First-Time Mother

She was not alone, but in a moment that she’d envisioned forever —perhaps the most pivotal moment of her life — the voices that tried to comfort her were lost.

“You’re doing great,” they said. “Relax, everything is okay.”

But she could not understand their comforting words.

As the pain of childbirth took hold of her, she stared around the room, seeking a familiar voice. Then it came, in the form of a simple greeting, and a smile replaced her pained expression.

“Privet, menya zovut Ella.” (“Hello, my name is Ella.”)

Raised speaking both Russian and Ukrainian before she ever learned English, Ella Kuchmiy, a third-year osteopathic medical student at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences, was introduced to the patient as a student who shared her native Russian language. The young woman smiled as she agreed to let Ella stay.

“She was so excited when she heard me introduce myself like that,” said Ella, smiling as she recalled the moment.

After exchanging greetings, Ella learned that the patient was from Moldova, and that she was having her first child.

Throughout her labor, she would turn to Ella and ask: “vse v poryadke?” (“Is everything okay?”)

“She was very nervous,” Ella recalled, “as it was her first child. While it was also one of the first births that I had ever been present for, we had found a common language — literally — and that helped her to relax and feel more at ease. I think that her calmed demeanor was not only the result of a familiarity with the language, but the familiarity of culture and the connection we were able to create with each other during the birth.”

Throughout her time on rotation in Dr. Tarek Bhagdadi’s Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic in Tacoma, Ella had used her lingual skills to speak with patients on multiple occasions, translating complex medical information and helping them to understand details that may have otherwise been lost in translation. The ability to speak multiple languages had benefitted Ella even before her service at the clinic, as she assisted family members with similar challenges throughout her life.

“Familiarity always seems to help build rapport, especially in patient care,” she said. “When a patient feels comfortable, they are more likely to share exactly what is going on in order to allow for a better history to be taken. That history plays a vital role in piecing together the puzzle of what is ailing them and, ultimately, helps us to truly treat them as a whole patient; mind, body and spirit.”

That day, in Tacoma General Hospital, her ability to connect on a human level proved to be as important a skill as any she had ever learned before.

Soon after having introduced herself, the young woman from Moldova became the mother of her first baby girl, and Ella was called away to another birth. Before she left, however, she congratulated her once again (“pozdravleniya,” in Russian), and thanked her for allowing her to be present for such a precious moment in her life.

“I was so happy to be able to truly serve the community I came from in such a meaningful and humbling way,” said Ella. “A physician must be a trusted person in a patient’s life, and the more a physician can connect with their patient — understanding their background and what makes them who they are — the more they can tailor the patient care. I’ll never forget the experience, and I look forward to having many more like it in my future as an osteopathic doctor.”