On February 7, AMSA co-sponsored a meeting with GHO, featuring a talk on cultural competency by Dr. Zehra Ahmed. Health disparities exist both on a global level, as well as within our nation’s health care system. Despite health care providers’ best intentions, we continue to see racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in medical care. One big reason for health care disparities is a language barrier. Although many places now have translation services, they are either not used or used incorrectly. Oftentimes, family members and friends serve as translators in lieu of professional services. Dr. Ahmed demonstrated the problems that may arise as a result of this in a video. It featured a physician trying to take a history from a non-English speaking patient, with use of both a family member and a neighbor. We observed that much of what the doctor was saying was ‘lost in translation’: the makeshift translators would reinterpret the questions or ask a completely different question. Sometimes, they would even answer for the patient. After we acknowledged the inefficiency of this method, Dr. Ahmed informed us of the correct use of a translation service. Ideally, the translator would be there in person, and orient the conversation such that the patient and doctor are face-to-face, while the translator is aside and slightly behind the physician. With phone services, the physician and patient would still face each other, both on the telephone. Both the physician and the translator must formally introduce themselves to the patient prior to conducting the history. Having just finished the Medical Spanish elective course, I found this issue highly relevant, useful, and overlooked in the medical curriculum (not that we have the time). Both AMSA and GHO were happy to have Dr. Ahmed impart this important knowledge to NYCOM’s first and second year students.

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