Danielle Manygoat’s path to becoming a medical professional was laid long before she was born.
As a Navajo woman, her family’s chosen career paths have naturally fallen into public service. She is a member of the clan of Deer Water, born for the Salt People clan. Her maternal grandparents are the Red Bottom People clan, and her paternal grandparents are Chiricahua/Mascalero Apache. As such, the men either entered the police force or tribal politics, while most of the women chose health care, including Danielle, who works as a registered nurse in the emergency department at Banner Page Hospital in Page, Arizona. Even Danielle’s three children are looking to follow her path. Her oldest daughter is pursuing her Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) license, while her two younger sons often speak about their aspirations to also enter the field of nursing.
“That’s our family dynamic,” she says. “That’s who we are, that’s how we go about living our lives, and that’s what we’re known for.”
The family’s lifetime of devotion to medicine began with her grandfather, Frank Goldtooth, Sr., who built a trading post in Arizona that proved to be a staple during the missionary movement. Dry goods, commodities from other villages, and essentials like seeds and socks were exchanged on the road.
Like the line of men who came before him, he was also a medicine man.
“He was this traditionalist,” Danielle shares about her grandfather. “He was a healer. People would come from all around to have him do ceremonies for them, help them heal, help them do prayers, and keep their spirit happy and put them back in the balance.”
She can recall tales of her grandfather hosting rituals to protect soldiers that saw war and bestowing protection prayers and sending medicine bundles to keep them safe from harm. He also led ceremonies to replenish their bodies upon a celebratory return.
Through a vivid history, she sees a connection to her current career.
“It’s not any different from a traditional medicine man treating their patients,” she says. “We’re giving them the herbs, we’re giving them the medicine, because that’s what the medicine is. They’re from plants.”
Even with a long line of tradition, Danielle’s original journey surprisingly didn’t begin with medicine. A flair for the stage made her a regular in the local beauty pageant scene during her early schooling years. She participated in contests, winning titles in high school and even competing at the state level. Despite earning scholarships for collegiate drama programs, she turned them down.
“I would end up leaving my mom at home, and that was too far,” she admits.
Danielle’s early ambitions also fell in line with her desire to start her own business and earn a business management degree.
That wouldn’t last long. Her propensity to take care of her family and those around her and not leave them behind to pursue her education led her down the unavoidable medical path “by happenstance.”
An Impact Only a Mom Can Have
Through all her ventures, Danielle’s mother remained a source of strength and support.
“She was a really strong, very powerful, very straightforward woman,” she says. “If you wanted something, if you expressed an interest in something, she would be the one person who would back you up. I drew on her for a lot of things. She was my strength, she was my pillar, she was my foundation.”
Ultimately, Danielle attributes her inspiration to attend nursing school to her mother. In addition to taking care of her current patients at Page Hospital, Danielle played a caregiver role for her grandmother and other family members. When her mom got sick, she would only allow Danielle to help her — and even suggested she make it her career path.
Upon making the switch to medicine, Danielle earned her CNA license. However, the road wasn’t without its challenges.
We don’t have Navajo practitioners up here. As much as we would love to have them, we don’t have enough. So, I really want to continue building that bridge that we started at our facility in Banner-Page. I really want to continue bridging that gap and making sure that our native community members know that they have somebody that’s there for them.
During her clinicals at a previous school in Phoenix, a nursing instructor grilled Danielle about diabetes treatment, signs to watch out for, blood sugar, and other matters — in front of the entire class. Afterward, she pulled Danielle aside and told her to consider another career path.
“She looked at me and she said, ‘I really don’t think you’re going to make it as a nurse. I highly suggest that you pick a different career option,’” Danielle recalls.
Danielle was taken by surprise and tried not to be angry. Luckily, her mother was there to support and encourage her.
“My mother said, ‘When you’re doing something that is on your path, you’re always going to have at least one person, two persons, a group of people telling you you’re on the wrong path. They’re put there because you have to prove to yourself that you want this bad enough,’” Danielle recounts.
Danielle’s mother passed away a few months prior to her graduating from her previous nursing program, so Danielle continues to pursue her calling in her honor.
“She’s the reason I do what I do,” Danielle says.
Persevering Through COVID-19
As a Navajo woman, Danielle’s connection to her ancestors and their beliefs is paramount to her identity — and her career.
Danielle’s call to action only increased during the pandemic. Page borders the Navajo reservation and Arizona state line, and a population of roughly 7,500 people makes it a remote outpost. Page Hospital had the unique situation of bringing in native elders who only spoke Navajo, and those patients needed extra reassurance that their care aligned with their customs.
Danielle remembers calling on both her spirituality and her heritage for survival, especially through a six-month separation from her family to keep working.
“It took a lot out of us,” she says, “but I was fortunate enough to rely on a lot of my cultural teachings, my cultural upbringings. My mom would drop off herbs and medicine at my door when I was at home… the things her dad taught her as a medicine man, that she learned and picked up along the way.”
To this day, her fluency and connection to her roots still allows her to communicate with her Navajo patients regarding their treatment.
UAGC Journey For Medicine Destiny
In an effort to continue on her path, Danielle decided to return to college. While scrolling through her company’s website, she saw a scholarship and applied with a friend. She was one of five recipients and within a few weeks, she began pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at UAGC. Her goal is to establish herself as one of the only Navajo practitioners in the area.
“We don’t have Navajo practitioners up here. As much as we would love to have them, we don’t have enough,” she explains. “So, I really want to continue building that bridge that we started at our facility in Banner-Page. I really want to continue bridging that gap and making sure that our native community members know that they have somebody that’s there for them.”
By doing so, Danielle explains, she acts as a familiar presence for traditional peoples that hold certain beliefs and perform rituals while receiving their medical care.
“Medicine is universal,” she says.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
Applicants to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program must possess an active, unrestricted license to practice as a Registered Nurse or its equivalent in at least one U.S. state. All students must maintain this licensure throughout the program of study.