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February 5, 2001

Docs climb language, culture wall

By Alicia Sands Lurry

Several doctors at Grady Hospital have joined forces to ensure that all Latino patients receive proper health care that reflects their language and culture.

Inginia Genao, Clyde Watkins and Stacy Higgins have teamed to shrink the language barrier and increase the number of providers who speak Spanish and understand the Hispanic culture, as well as the health risks many Latinos face. And with the growing number of Hispanic patients at Grady, Genao and Higgins—both fluent in Spanish—agree that something must be done to address the issue.

“There is a need for a linguistically and culturally appropriate [health care] environment,” said Genao, assistant professor of general medicine at Grady. “Without it, Latino and Hispanic patients would not be getting the appropriate care.”

Citing statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, Genao said the Latino community in Georgia has grown by more than 100 percent since 1990. With that in mind, she, Higgins and Watkins are working to get bilingual informational posters displayed in key areas throughout the hospital. Other efforts include creating pocket medical manuals for doctors and other health providers; establishing a medical clinic geared specifically to Latino patients; initiating a Spanish-speaking course for medical students; and doing outreach at local churches.

Genao, a native of the Dominican Republic, said the more than 70 percent of the patients she sees in Medical Clinics I and II speak Spanish as their primary language. She said monolingual patients often encounter language barriers because many hospital staff do not speak Spanish, nor are there enough bilingual signs throughout the hospital to adequately inform Latino patients.

Language and cultural barriers may even cause many Latinos to delay early medical attention, she said.

“The Latino population has grown so fast that the [medical] system isn’t ready, basically,” Genao said. “What we need to do is make the medical clinics more bilingual and culturally welcoming to the patients.”

Higgins agreed. She said studies reveal patients with health providers who speak their language or have similar cultural or racial backgrounds often receive better access to medical care than those who do not.

“If Latinos know they can get a Spanish-speaking provider, they’re more likely to come to them for care,” Higgins said.

Genao is also teaming with Donald Brady and Jada Bussey-Jones of general medicine to teach multiculturalism—or “cultural competence,” as Genao described it—to third-year medical students and first-year residents. The course helps residents and interns become more sensitive to patients’ cultural differences and helps them better address patients’ illnesses and

In fact, the three doctors recently applied for a $25,000 Emory Medical Care Foundation grant to further the curriculum. If awarded the grant, Genao and Bussey-Jones will use the money to pay for a research assistant and a statistician to conduct a survey and to visit Cornell University in New York, where a similar curriculum is in place.

Genao said she has great hopes.

“[This course] will change attitudes and behaviors, in terms of how doctors treat patients,” she said.


Back to Emory Report Feb. 5, 2001