By Shubhranshu Dutta and Aliza Lopez, 2022 Governor's STEM Scholars
What happens in an emergency when English is a foreign language for you? In an urgent medical situation, you’re met with the feeling of being misunderstood, despite attempts to voice your concerns. Your words are clearly articulated — but only to an individual who can understand your language. While seeking treatment, any possibility of receiving proper care is drowned out by your provider’s inability to understand you.
In the U.S., where one-fifth of the population is not a native-English speaker, this is a common occurrence. In the health care setting, how can quality treatment be given if it cannot be understood by his or her doctor? And language is just one example of a cultural challenge in health care.
Requiring cultural competence instruction in health care professional training is important to ensure equitable and personalized approaches to treatment for high patient outcomes and quality health care for all.
Cultural competence training for health care professionals provides skills that value diversity, responds to cultural differences, and increases awareness to cultural norms. From a practical perspective it teaches how race, socioeconomic status, health literacy, and other factors influence how patients perceive symptoms, how they seek care, how willing they will be to treatment plans, and more.
A patient’s ability to communicate with his or her doctor is important for individualized treatment, as they can attest to their state of health best. Though diagnoses can sometimes be made through physical examinations, it is not always sufficient. Speaking to, connecting with, and recognizing the patient’s personal background can be an important part of the patient’s health care diagnosis. Additionally, physicians and health care professionals must craft treatments on the severity of the condition often determined by communicated pain and discomfort, traditional values and practices, and the disclosure of other relevant information.
Increased cultural competence towards various social and racial groups proves to be an asset. By viewing how one’s upbringing, customs, and other values influence how a patient communicates and relates to their health, health care professionals can better provide services. As stated by Cindy Brach, MPP and Irene Fraser, PhD, cultural competence techniques “lead to appropriate services for minority group members, such as tailored preventive care, timely health screenings, indicated diagnostic tests, and early intervention and treatment.” Many advantages are seen when physicians display acts of cultural sensitivity towards their patients; from socioeconomic statuses, linguistics, demographic breakdowns, and beliefs, populations may be aligned towards treatment that’s right for them, combating inequities.
As the world’s populations, and even within the state of New Jersey, continue to diversify, efforts of inclusion are ever evolving. Taking steps towards mutual respect and inclusion through a competent health care system, can support effective health care services and delivery. The American Academy of Family Physicians has initiated The Everyone Project, which is making monumental strides in this goal; their cultural competency points are outlined and recognized along the pathway to becoming a physician. Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services, or CLAS programs, promise the availability of resources and opportunities for underrepresented communities. This facilitates intercommunication between diverse populations, allowing for greater accessibility to care overall.
Health education accreditation organizations can implement curriculum changes or suggestions for post-education training. To ensure that this practice is fully instilled in future practitioners, specific courses should be produced to understand cultural traditions and common conditions.
The patient shouldn’t need to accommodate their treatment and adapt to a health care system that doesn’t satisfy their biological and cultural demands; the health care system should be structured to meet this standard for populations. It's time for our health professionals to step up and provide the best care to all of their patients.
Aliza Lopez, a junior at North Brunswick Township High School’s STEM Academy, is a prospective neuroscience and public health major with aims to pursue a neurosurgical career path; she currently works with various projects, universities, and organizations to enhance behavioral and mental health research.
Shubhranshu (Dew) Dutta, a senior at the Hunterdon County Academies’ Biomedical Sciences Academy, is a rising undergraduate geared on the pre-health track; conducting and participating in independent and collaborative research projects while taking charge through school organizations and volunteerism, he aspires towards a medical career in ophthalmology and clinical research.