Molly A. Markowitz
As I began planning, I soon realized that recruiting families to participate in the tours would be my greatest challenge. As a busy medical student, I had spent only a limited amount of time connecting with the Burlington community outside of the medical center. I decided that it was time to forge out on foot in order to meet with families and community leaders. With 300 flyers in hand, I spent several afternoons driving and walking around Burlington, posting flyers in physician offices, daycares, schools, gas stations, subsidized housing facilities, local businesses, and community and teen centers.
On one such afternoon, I was visiting local businesses in the old north end of Burlington when a torrential downpour forced me to dash into a corner market. Once inside, I was surprised to find a store filled with a crowd of about 20 men, women, and children all staring at me. It appeared that I was not the only one sheltering from the rain. I smiled, greeted the crowd enthusiastically, and weaved my way towards the counter. At the counter, an elderly man cautiously greeted me in words I could not understand; he was speaking Nepali. I held up the flyers, tried to explain about the tours, and asked if I could hang one in the shop's window.
As I nervously jabbered away, I realized the store had gone silent and the crowd of people had joined me at the counter. Everyone was trying to understand what I was saying. The man at the counter looked understandably skeptical and was clearly confused by my request. He then called for a young high-school-aged girl to step forward. She greeted me in English and introduced the man behind the counter as her uncle and shop owner. As the niece translated my explanation and request, a bright smile lit up the shop owner's face and he began to nod. He then started to direct the crowd in Nepali, and before I knew it, everyone was trying to help me hang the flyers not only in the windows, but on the front door of the shop, in the most auspicious locations. At one point, there were at least five people, 10 helping hands, all trying to help me hang up a single flyer. The shop owner proclaimed proudly that he would happily display the flyers in his shop as it was a program which helped his community. A week later, I made sure to return to the shop with flyers translated into Nepali.
"Supporting programs that help lift children and families out of poverty is essential, but so is making sure the programs can be understood and utilized by those who need them."
The grocery store tours were a great success. Medical students, residents, attendings, interpreters, and new American families all came together to participate. However, looking back, it really was the planning process which has stayed with me. I learned so much more about the critical support systems which help struggling families. Now, when working with families in clinic, I can speak to them from a place of personal experience and knowledge of the system which is truly invaluable. Perhaps even more importantly, I have come to further appreciate how communication really is the key to making a connection with people. Both through the shop owner's niece and the interpreters in the grocery store, I was able to form a communication bridge. I saw confusion and frustration turn into excitement and understanding.
As a future physician, who aspires to work with children and families, I have been inspired to assure that my healthcare community not only values this communication bridge, but also has the resources in place to connect with non-English speaking patients. This includes in-person interpretation, remote-video interpretation, or health information which is translated into a preferred a language. Supporting programs that help lift children and families out of poverty is essential, but so is making sure the programs can be understood and utilized by those who need them.
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of "AAP Voices" blog posts exploring issues addressed by the
FACE Poverty campaign spearheaded by AAP's Section on Pediatric Trainees.
Molly A. Markowitz is a third-year medical student at The University of Vermont College of Medicine and a member of AAP's Section on Pediatric Trainees.