A Push to Understand

(Originally published at: http://med.ucf.edu/news/2011/10/a-push-to-understand)

Posted on: October 28, 2011

The challenge is clear to Dr. Monica Hayes: The cultural landscape of the United States is changing, and medical professionals must understand this to close the health-care disparities gap for patients.

Dr. Hayes, assistant director of minority health for the Florida Department of Health, made her comments recently at the College of Medicine as part of UCF’s Cultural Diversity Week, which celebrated “Cultivating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.” She spoke to COM faculty and staff members, medical students and 16 students from the Jones High School Health Leaders program, a partnership between the college and Orlando’s Jones High School Medical Arts magnet program.

The event was organized by Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion. Dr. Hayes also met with faculty members to discuss cultural competency in the curriculum and various groups from UCF to discuss collaborative efforts in promoting cultural competency.

“We need to push to understand what we are doing,” said Dr. Hayes, who defined cultural competency as the ability to value differences and work across cultures.

Dr. Hayes pointed out that in 1999, the U.S. population was 71.9% white, 11.4 % Hispanic,

4.5 % Asian/other and 12.1% black. By 2025, she said, the breakdown is expected transform: 62% white, 18.2 % Hispanic, 7.0% Asian/other and 12.9% black.

Medical professionals must understand these changes in order to improve health care for everyone – not just minorities, Dr. Hayes said.

“How you think and feel about people impacts how we deal with them,” she said.

Comparing the factors that shape culture to an iceberg, Dr. Hayes said medical professionals might only see the “tip” of a patient, but they must look below the surface to see the whole picture. Important cultural factors include music, art, language, education and values. For example, Dr. Hayes urged doctors to know what the reading level is in their communities. “It doesn’t do any good to hand out brochures if patients can’t understand the material,” she said.

Before the speech, Dr. Hayes held an impromptu forum with four medical students – Sharise Richardson, Avi Bunnell, Kelly Johnson and Mertelaine Mulatre. The students said they want to learn more about how they can change health-care disparities when they go into practice. They pointed out that topics such as diet, HIV/AIDS and sex can be shaped by a patient’s religion, belief systems and social habits.

“Culture affects thinking and how you approach disease,” Richardson said.

Statistics from the Central Partnership on Health Disparities shows the role culture and race plays on disease:

  • African Americans have 2.4 times the infant mortality rate of whites.
  • Mexican American adults are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes. Hispanics are 1.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from the disease.
  • Blacks have the highest cancer death rates for all cancers but suffer particularly high rates of lung, colon and prostate cancers.

Hispanic women are 2.2 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.

 

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