Medical Fear-Factor: Cross Cultural Patient Care-Muslims


Well if you know me, then you know my history-raised in the mysterious, chaotic, lively and noisy land of Egypt, far away,… where I was immersed in Egyptian culture, comprised predominantly (but not completely) of Muslims.  I went to school with them, played sports with them, argued politics with them, bought vegetables from them, rode in their taxis, rode on their camels, ran the mile in PE with them, was a third grade teacher for a few dozen of them, shared many treasured memories of life with them.  Although Muslims make up a large portion of the population in major cities across the United States, there exists a significant void in understanding and communication between…. what shall I call it,… traditional America? and Muslims; peoples from other cultures that share a common religion, seen as a foreign and suspect.  Now that I’m in PA school, I feel that this “void of understanding” is unacceptable, if we are to provide excellent patient care to whomever walks through the door.  So, I decided to do something about it.

As you may know, Global Health is my passion, and I hope that I will be heavily involved in the alleviation of Global Health maladies as a career and life-pursuit.  Thus, I joined the University of Utah Student Global Health Initiative, a group of students from various health colleges that share similar interests with me.  I had been sort of bouncing around ideas with one of my PA classmates, an amazing woman by the name of Wagma, born in Germany to Afghani parents, raised in the United States, and one of the most intelligent, motivated, organized and impassioned Muslim women I’ve ever met, which evolved into holding a panel discussion event, hosted by the SGHI, that would feature members of our local Muslim community, people who are working in healthcare or Public Health who could share about their faith, dispel rumors and stereotypes, and provide pertinent information to the attendees about how to take care of Muslim patients.  It was occurring to me that most people, even in my class, had very little experience or knowledge about Islam or people from cultures that practice Islam.  And yet, they would be taking care of patients from these cultures, wading into the bogs of cultural ignorance, terrified to offend someone or aloof due to their own misconceptions.  With two Muslim women in our own program, one would think that surely people would feel comfortable just asking them their questions, but, this doesn’t happen very much.  The Panel discussion, however, was the perfect medium for people to come and learn, ask those questions and gain a sense of confidence in how to approach, say, a woman who wears Hijab, or a patient who’s fasting for Ramadan, or can we/should we/is it allowed to perform a pelvic exam on an unmarried woman?  This is heavy stuff.

Suffice it to say, we held the event, and about 50 people came.  I thought the panelists were wonderful, and addressed so many issues I can’t even remember them all.  We plan to hold a series of these talks, each time featuring a new cultural group or religious group.  SO, if you are interested, here is the video of the event, I am so proud and pleased at how successful it was.  There’s no way that in one hour, you can achieve complete vulnerability, transparency, and understanding.  But you can at least START the conversation.





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