Bridging cultural divides in medicine

“Reality,” says writer Anne Fadiman, “not only looks different to different people. It is different.” Her acclaimed first book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, describes the linguistic and cultural gulf that separated a family of Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia from the physicians treating the family’s epileptic infant daughter in California’s Central Valley.

Caregivers, she said, need to understand the cultures of their patients. “Cross-cultural medicine,” she said in an address to the first-year class at the medical school on Sept. 1, “should be integrated into every course. It shouldn’t be taught just in the first term or the first year. It is fine then, but you will need it more in the fourth year when the assaults on your empathy need to be fought more aggressively.”