|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives|
Doctor Makes Career Of Bridging Gaps
Twin Cities, September 16, 2005 (American City Business Journals) – A Somali-born patient visited a Twin Cities clinic for treatment. In his native language, he told an interpreter he had been "bitten by the hyena." The interpreter, thinking no translation existed for the statement, told a doctor the patient had been "bitten by a dog." The doctor treated the patient with a series of rabies shots, unaware that "bitten by the hyena" was a colloquialism meaning, "I have syphilis."
Several weeks later, the patient went to a Somali internist at the Center for International Health at Regions Hospital, which uses professionally trained translators, and received the proper treatment.
Many times, people from other cultures come to Regions not seeking a diagnosis, but for pain management. Why? They have self-diagnosed themselves, concluding their illnesses stem from unresolved issues such as not regaining hot and cold balance after childbirth or the spirits being angry because they did not immediately set up an ancestral shrine after moving.
Dr. Patricia Walker, medical director at HealthPartners' Center for International Health at Regions Hospital , said one of the first things she does with new patients is ask them what they think caused their illness. She uses this information to help with her diagnosis, working to integrate traditional beliefs with modern medicine for a culturally sensitive treatment plan.
"This is everyday health care in Minnesota now," Walker said. "We cross many cultures."
Walker has dedicated much of her career to learning about the medical needs and traditions of minority cultures.
Bridging those gaps is vital today, she said, because in addition to a fast-growing Hispanic population, Minnesota has the highest percentage of people of Hmong, Somali and Oromo descent in the United States . Immigrants will comprise much of the state's employee base in the future, so health care workers must find ways to respect cultural differences while providing better treatment.
"It's the right thing to do," Walker said. "Secondly, it means businesses are healthier because their employees are healthier."
Internal surveys at HealthPartners show most health care professionals recognize there are disparities in the treatment of minority patients. The Bloomington-based organization has become a leader in attempting to eliminate those differences, in part due to Walker 's leadership.
In addition to helping found the Center for International Health 25 years ago, Walker co-chairs the organization's 3-year-old Cross Cultural Care and Service Task Force. During the past six years, she's helped earn a number of grants for the center, including four from the Medtronic Foundation, aimed at studying and finding best practices in culturally competent care.
And, in 2004, Walker was part of a delegation assembled by St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly that traveled to Thailand to study and prepare for the eventual arrival of thousands of Hmong immigrants to the Twin Cities.
"You have to know who you are taking care of before you know how well you are taking care of them," she said.
Walker 's passion for this cause started at a young age. She was born in Taiwan and moved to Thailand at the age of 5. After moving to the United States as a teenager, she spent her summers in Thailand and Laos . It was during those travels that she became aware of treatment disparities and passionate about finding ways to provide better care for people from different cultures.
Dr. Brian Rank considers Walker an innovator in her field. Her efforts at landing grants, especially the Medtronic contributions, has been instrumental in "helping us develop and spread best practices and cross-cultural care," said Rank, medical director of HealthPartners Medical Group & Clinics. "She's an outstanding physician. Our medical group and our community are lucky to have her."
Walker lives in Afton with her partner, Becky Enos. Outside of work, she enjoys playing golf, camping and canoeing.
She also is a frequent traveler, often choosing her destinations from the Patricia Schultz book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Walker estimated she has been to about 40 of the locations, and has a 10-year plan that includes visiting Vietnam and Tibet .
Andrew Tellijohn is based in Minneapolis .