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Stanford Report, August 27, 1997

Program readies minority undergrads for med sco

Cultural connection:
'Those little things do make a big difference'

Programs like HCOP serve not only to help individual students, but also to address some of the complexities of practicing medicine in an increasingly multicultural society, where ethnic differences and language barriers often interfere with communication between doctors and their patients.

"When you look at the changing demographics of this country, you can see that we are going to need doctors who are not just good clinicians and good diagnosticians; we're going to need doctors who are good with people," said program director Ronald Garcia.

HCOP student Sayed Basel, whose family left Afghanistan when he was eight years old, offered a personal account of cross-cultural communication:

"One of the physicians who came and talked to us this summer, Dr. Noel Rosales [a general pediatrics and bicultural/bilingual fellow with the Center of Excellence], talked about communication barriers between patients of different ethnic backgrounds, patients who speak different languages, and the doctors who receive them and treat them."

"I was personally able to relate to that, because I often take my mother or my grandmother to the doctor, and I translate. And [Rosales] said a lot of things about what happens in the translation process. Oftentimes we're not equipped to translate the medical terminology necessary to effectively articulate what the problem is. And if you can't do that, then how effective will the diagnosis be? And how much will the recipient of those services be inclined to follow the prescription, actually take the medication? Oftentimes my mother doesn't. Oftentimes I didn't, because I learned from her.

"These barriers can be overcome if the doctors are aware of some of the cultural influences ­ alternative ways of looking at theories of life, theories of disease, [whether those theories hold that] spirits are involved, or bacteria or viruses. Those little things actually do make a big difference.

"[When Rosales spoke,] I got a warm feeling knowing that there's somebody who cares to know that aspect. I see that there are people actually researching what my parents' views are, because that matters.

"[This program] has developed my confidence that I matter, that my parents matter, that my views matter."