When Bushra Faris assists MU Health Care patients as an interpreter, she offers them more than her fluency in the Arabic and Kurdish languages. She also has a doctor’s knowledge of medicine, because she was a physician in the countries of Iraq and Jordan.
“When I’m working, I don’t feel like I’m an interpreter,” Faris said. “I feel like I’m still a physician. I look at the cases like my cases. I’m not interfering, but I know what is wrong with the patient. I feel this case is my case. I’m still in my field, my environment.”
Faris graduated from medical school in Iraq in 1986 and went on to practice mostly as an OB/GYN. She was busy — once delivering 17 babies in a single 24-hour shift — and her work was satisfying, but she struggled to make a living wage.
“Even though I was a physician and my husband was a civil engineer, our salaries were so low,” Faris said. “He had to find other work. Sometimes he worked after hours as a taxi driver. We decided our income was so low, we had to leave for the benefit of my three sons, myself and my husband.”
They moved to Jordan in 1999. Although she practiced as a resident physician and passed that country’s board exam to be an OB/GYN, the government declined to grant citizenship to Faris and her family, which grew to include a daughter. They were forced to leave in 2008. Working through the United Nations Refugee Agency, they found a home in the United States. They decided to settle in Columbia, where a family friend lived.
Faris said she feels welcome in Missouri. She’s proud of the way her children adapted to a new culture. Sons Bilal and Mohammed are now engineers, son AbdulAlkarim is a real estate leasing agent and daughter Afnan is a senior at Rock Bridge High School.
As for her own career, Faris decided it wasn’t realistic to start over again in medical school, but she wanted to stay involved in medicine. MU Health Care offers onsite interpreters in three languages — Arabic, Spanish and American Sign Language — and has interpretive tools with access to 130 languages to ensure patients and their care teams understand each other. All interpreter services are free.
For the last 10 years, Faris has been at patients’ sides through appointments, surgeries and childbirth.
“Whenever the patient is in labor and I’m helping her deliver the baby,” she said, “that is the nicest thing.”