Culture in the doctor’s office

“Bridging the Culture Gap” may surprise some by its suggestion that cross-cultural sensitivity and skills can affect your health. It offers a closer look at doctor-patient relationships from a cross-cultural point of view. While the article makes references to cases in the US, these situations can just as easily be found here in Norway. We believe it offers valuable insight into an extra layer affecting our health.

Illness and health care are often emotional and traumatic areas. Now add on to those cultural nuances. Both the doctor and the patient have their own cultural orientations, which show up in their role. Especially doctors have a professional culture in addition to their personal values. But if on top of that they have a different national culture than their patient, that can add stress and miscommunication.

There is a need to address cultural differences in the doctor-patient relationship. I saw this a lot in working as a medical interpreter for a clinic in Arlington, Virginia. Most of our patients were poor immigrants from Latin America or Africa. I was taught to always listen for the meaning behind the words, especially if patients were chaperoned by a family member. I read body language in order to detect feelings of shame, embarrassment, discomfort or manipulation.

It’s good to see that medical schools and training programs are realizing the importance of culture in health care and are actually including cultural competency into their curricula.

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