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Cultural Competency Symposium to provide insight into ‘Our Changing World’

by UofL Today last modified Nov 02, 2010 02:13 PM

The complexities of treating and interacting with a variety of patient populations whose lifestyles and beliefs may be very different from those of the health provider will be examined at an annual symposium hosted by the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center.

The Fifth Annual Cultural Competency Symposium, “Increasing Cultural Competency in Our Changing World,” is 8 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Wednesday Nov. 3 in Kornhauser Library. The event is required for first-year HSC students and is open to all students, faculty and staff.

This year, the symposium features sessions that examine specific needs and attributes of the homeless, the Mennonite community, rural Appalachia and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community. It also will provide participants with a comparison of the U.S. health care system to systems in other countries such as Cuba, Iraq and Somalia, and provide information on how an agnostic perspective can be effective in conducting scientific research.

“The symposium exists to give health profession students awareness, understanding and appreciation of the diversity of the patients they see,” said Faye Jones, associate dean of academic affairs and head of the School of Medicine's Office of Minority and Rural Affairs. The office’s Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) Program organizes the event. “Our students are very positive about the symposium and tell us that it causes them to think about concepts they have never considered before.”

How those concepts play into the practice of medicine was illustrated by an actual experience of an HSC pediatrician. When Amy Holthouser was presented with an Amish patient with a life-threatening wound, she saw first-hand how cultural differences could have a strong impact on patient outcomes.

“My patient was a child, and at first, the case was complicated by what was thought to be the family’s unwillingness to comply with care,” she said. “They had administered home remedies in accordance with their beliefs, and from our perspective, these remedies jeopardized the care of our patient.”

Communication with the patient’s parents and the Amish community elders involved in making treatment decisions also presented a problem, Holthouser said. “I realized that they practice a very non-confrontational style of communication in their culture; that meant open-ended questions did not work,” she says. “I had to try to articulate feelings and treatment goals for them, being very specific in getting information from them. Only then would they be comfortable in communicating with me.”

Frequent and explicit provider articulation of the family’s perceptions and treatment goals, acceptance of the Amish community’s communal approach to treatment and allowing for more time in discussing the patient’s treatment were keys to a successful outcome.

“We did a lot of talking. I also spoke to a healer from their community, and we were able to incorporate traditional healing methods into the treatment plan. We worked out a great system and the patient recovered fully,” Holthouser said.

It is this type of real-word experience for which the symposium helps prepare students. A 2002 graduate of the School of Medicine, Holthouser has participated in two of the previous symposia and sees their value. “With each patient, we must start from a basis of cultural respect. We have to sometimes put what we perceive to be ‘efficiency’ aside and put the time in to understand the patient’s culture upfront. In the course of treatment, doing so actually makes the care we provide more efficient.

“It takes a lot of time to do it right – but it will take even more time if you do it wrong.”

The symposium is sponsored by the University of Louisville; School of Dentistry/Dean John Sauk; School of  Medicine/Dean Edward Halperin; UofL Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality; Kentucky AHEC/Office of Minority and Rural Affairs at UofL; the Northwest, Purchase, South Central Kentucky, West Kentucky, Northeast Kentucky, North Central, Southeast Kentucky and Southern Kentucky AHEC offices; and Chick-fil-A.

For more information, contact Pattie Allen of the AHEC office at 502-852-3317 or

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