Mayan Medical Aid
Cultural Learning
Photo: Mayan Medical Aid
Learning essential cultural skills is one of the most important aspects of the program. There is so much that people from the US and Europe do not know about other cultures. And what is worse, we mostly do not even know what we do not know.

This fact makes the cultural education as critical as learning Spanish. How people from other cultures think and perceive health care, as well as their expectations from a health care system, are as much a part of the process of communicating with them as is understanding Spanish words and phrases.

As such, the cultural experiences, which Mayan Medical Aid offers, serve to provide participants with the tools to communicate more effectively with people of a different culture. Without understanding how these people think and how they communicate, medical practitioners are not able to take appropriate histories and, therefore, are not able to diagnose or treat these patients appropriately.

The key to understanding a different culture is to think differently. The trap most people fall into is to consider the actions of people from a different culture in the same manner as we always do - from our own cultural and educational backgrounds and perspectives.

Instead, we teach participants to understand and to intellectualize fully that our culture and the culture of the Latin American patients we are trying to serve run along parallel lines. The truth is that there are far fewer cultural similarities and intersections of those parallel lines than most participants initially can imagine.

For this reason, we focus of this part of the program on teaching participants how to be successful at doing beneficial things for people of other cultures. The learning process provides a variety of actual scenarios, usually culled from day-to-day experiences in the clinic.

These examples highlight how individuals, groups, and organizations often act without considering a) the limitations of their knowledge about other cultures, and b) their lack of understanding of the diseases or health care expectations of the target population's belief system. In this way, they cogently demonstrate the different ways in which our patients perceive illness, life, and health care. For example, we discuss why Latin American patients answer "yes" to the same questions, which patients of our own culture would answer "no".

We also teach participants how to ask questions with more clarity and without the use of slang words. Too often, people from our culture do not even consider the words they use to be slang. As such, we re-educate them as to how to choose more culturally appropriate words when they speak Spanish.

The end result is that our participants develop a genuine concern for Latin American patients. In particular, participants come to recognize the terrible misfortunes these patients face by having to suffer the social, health, and economic inequities associated with poverty and dysfunctional, government-guided health care systems.
Copyright:
Craig A. Sinkinson 2016
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