Bridging the Cultural Gap

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br>
Interpreter Marvin Cody (right) helps Navajo patients understand their physicians' instructions.

<i>Courtesy photo</i><br> Interpreter Marvin Cody (right) helps Navajo patients understand their physicians' instructions.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - As a regional referral center, Flagstaff Medical Center cares for patients from throughout northern Arizona, including a large number of patients from the Navajo Reservation. Often, these patients have a difficult time adapting to the hospital setting because of language and cultural differences.

But thanks to FMC's Navajo Translator Program, Navajo patients feel more at ease at FMC because complex medical issues can be explained in their native language.

FMC's Navajo Translator Program includes one full-time translator and several part-time translators, all of whom have special training in medical translation. Though language and cultural differences between health care providers and Navajo patients can be difficult to overcome, Navajo translators can help bridge the cultural gap.

"Through the Navajo interpreter program, our patients and caregivers overcome barriers that can arise from differences in language and culture," Cody said. "FMC is proud to care for members of the Navajo Nation and we are committed to making these patients' experience more comfortable and less frightening."

Serving as FMC's full-time Navajo interpreter for more than three years, Cody completed 40 hours of specialized Navajo medical translation training through Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, N.M. In addition, he is certified through the Cross Cultural Health Care Program.

Prior to his role as a Navajo translator, Cody worked as a security officer at FMC for 15 years.

According to Cody, patients with the greatest need for a Navajo interpreter are typically elderly members of the Navajo nation who have lived on the reservation their entire lives. Besides being less likely to speak English, these patients have often relied on traditional Navajo ceremonies to restore their health.

"In Navajo culture, people look at sickness and disease as being out of balance with nature," Cody said. "They're not accustomed to being asked about signs and symptoms. They're used to being told what kind of ceremony they need. Patients who have always relied on the ceremonies and prayers of medicine men for their healing sometimes don't understand."

Beyond helping Navajo patients communicate with caregivers and understand consent forms and procedures, Cody also helps ease any anxiety or fear patients may have.

"For some of our patients, it's like visiting a foreign country," Cody said. "Just imagine if your physician spoke a different language and had a completely unfamiliar way of treating your medical condition. It can be really scary."

Understanding the importance of the Navajo patients' rich culture, FMC takes other extra steps to make these patients feel more at ease. Education sessions are provided for staff to educate them on Navajo traditions and practices. Navajo patients and their families can request a medicine man to come in and offer prayer and ceremonies before surgery or if a patient is very ill. Additionally, Navajo patients can request traditional foods - like mutton stew and blue corn mush - with their physician's approval.

For more information about FMC and its programs, please visit FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.

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