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Annual symposium focuses on cultural sensitivity's role in improved health care delivery

by Lauren Williams last modified Nov 18, 2009 01:12 PM

If the world's population were reduced to 100 people with the same demographic and socio-economic breakdowns that now exist, there would be 82 non-whites and 18 whites; 51 males and 49 females; 89 heterosexuals and 11 homosexuals.

Annual symposium focuses on cultural sensitivity's role in improved health care delivery

Presenter Mary Pauline Fox, a general practitioner and UofL alumna, worked with the Frontier Nurse program.

 Eighty of those people would live in sub-standard housing; only one would have a college education; and 24 would have no electricity.

That's one message organizers of the fourth annual UofL Health Sciences Center Cultural Competency Symposium wanted University of Louisville medical and dental students to receive at the Nov. 12 event at the Health Sciences Center.

The symposium was designed to allow participants, which included some UofL faculty and staff, a venue to explore facts and myths and to make the future health care providers more aware not only of the impact of stereotyping but also of some of the unique concerns that varying populations might have when seeking health care.

Presenters emphasized that the cultural beliefs, values, perceptions and health practices of diverse populations provide challenges to those who deliver health care and that it's important that all health care providers are as cognizant of the differences as they can be.

"It's not just color, but it's socioeconomic status, it's religion, it's sexual orientation," said Faye Jones, associate dean for academic affairs at UofL School of Medicine. "People's beliefs and the things they carry with them when they arrive in a clinic to be seen by a health care professional, and the health care provider's beliefs and experiences can be vastly different. The more we can be aware of that, the better the experience of the patient - and that's hugely important."

Sessions included "Subconscious bias - implications for health care," "Cultural issues in the Mennonite community," "Working effectively with LGBT patients," "The culture of poverty and health outcomes," "Cultural consideration in women's health: perspectives from practice in Pakistan," and "Vocation rehabilitation."

In the session that focused on Mennonites, a panel that included Mennonite couple Eric and Lea Kraly addressed such topics as that community's attitudes toward chemotherapy and radiation, hospice, herbal remedies and immunizations.

"In the Mennonite community, people believe in developing skills from within, so there is a man who does some dental work with a foot pedal drill, and he actually does a pretty good job," said Richard Aud, professor in the department of medicine at UofL and a member of the panel.

In another presentation, Stan Brock, director of Remote Area Medical (RAM) talked about the Third World origins of his program and told of how shocked he was when he ran a free medical, dental and eye exam clinic in Los Angeles that attracted more than 15,000 people who were uninsured or underinsured.

"I couldn't believe that there were people right here in America who didn't have access to health care," Brock said.

Before Brock spoke, some faculty and students of the UofL School of Dentistry received a framed T-shirt by dental alumni Bill Collins and Greg Bentley in honor of the school's collaboration with RAM in Kentucky, and the important work that has been done by both organizations. The T-shirt was the first of 125 volunteer T-shirts used at the first RAM event in Kentucky, in 2008.

A plaque beneath it read: "This is to honor the students, faculty and staff that participated. It is symbolic of the caring hearts and skillful hands that reached out to help those in need as well as reinforcing the commitment of the University of Louisville School of Dentistry to community involvement."

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