By Jessica Williams
There is power in medicine. Not just because medicine serves to heal, but also because it strengthens the human connection. Think about it. You have to discuss very personal, and at times, embarrassing details about your body with a person that you have just met. You have to trust that this person can solve these health concerns. Although this may seem terrifying, there is something beautiful that can be produced from these “awkward” moments. A unique bond can be formed, one that transcends cultural barriers and ultimately eliminates disparities in healthcare. This all happens within 30 minutes. The fascinating role that physicians play in the aforementioned is what drew me to medicine.
In January 2010, I volunteered as a Spanish Interpreter to help set up health clinics in twelve rural towns in Fusimana, Dominican Republic. There, I observed first-hand the effects of disparities in healthcare. Due to the remote location, lack of education and income, the people did know how to receive proper medical care. This constant lack of knowledge only perpetuated a standard for poor quality of care. These medical mission trips served as the community’s only source for receiving adequate health services. As a Spanish Interpreter, my role was more of a cultural broker, a conduit that helped to address the health concerns of the patients and make sure they understood their plan of care. Also, I was able to educate each town on health topics ranging from hygiene to management of chronic illnesses, like hypertension. By simply informing the communities on ways to maintain a healthier lifestyle, I was able to help prevent their health problems from transforming into more dire ones.
These tasks may seem simple, but they were far from it. Imagine a long line of 200 people waiting to be seen in a dimly lit church, where the physician can only see the person for a maximum of 20 minutes. Here, bridging the cultural gap is critical to ensure that the patients receive optimal medical care. By interpreting for the physician and the patient, I was able to help foster a strong bond between both parties. Because I was able to dismantle the language barrier, the physician could effectively treat the patient.
Through my role as an interpreter, I was able to help plan a treatment for a young, diabetic mother with three children. Due to a lack of stable income, the mother could not afford her medication or food tailored to stabilize her glucose levels. I worked with the physician to educate the mother on cost-effective ways to cook and grow certain food in the Dominican Republic that both she and her children could enjoy. We also gave the mother a six month supply of diabetic medications, explained to her how to use them effectively, and connected her to a local social worker to help with employment. Within fifteen minutes, we we were able to tackle the patient’s health concerns. We centered her plan of care around her cultural preferences because we were able to understand her lifestyle.
This experience not only showed me what it takes to become a great physician, but alsowhat it means to be a good human being. One simply has to show compassion, a willingness to help. That is what medicine is about, and that is what makes us all humane.