Cultural challenges inspire aspirations

Koushik Paul
DMU’s Health Professions Advanced Summer Scholars (P.A.S.S.) program gives undergraduates like Koushik Paul opportunities to learn about health care careers.

On March 12, 2015, around 1 p.m., I was in an organic chemistry lab synthesizing nylon, in despair after checking the mid-term physics grades. As I was contemplating my chances of getting into medical school, I got an e-mail from Katie Pearce, assistant director of admissions at DMU, stating my acceptance into DMU’s Health P.A.S.S. program. My joys knew no bounds as I hugged my best friend, Hussain, to celebrate. As a recent immigrant to this country, I do not see in U.S. academic culture my image as a physician nor a role model of a physician who was an immigrant. Being a first-generation college student with a language barrier did not help. I knew the Health P.A.S.S. program would not alleviate all my problems, but my acceptance gave me the glimmer of hope that immigrants like me can still dream to be a physician.

I grew up in the impoverished segregated hill tracts in northeastern Bangladesh in a community with significant health care needs but limited access to health care services. We had our own Manipuri traditional health beliefs and medicine that we preferred over modern medicine due to the lack of trust in and cultural humility of the non-indigenous health care providers. I felt helpless knowing such resources were available yet not accessible due to our socioeconomic and indigenous minority status. I came to realize the importance of cultural sensitivity in practicing medicine.

In 2011 I migrated with my family to the U.S. due to human rights violations against my tribe. Cultural shock coupled with the language barrier made seeking health care in this country a daunting task. Despite interpreting services, care was not provided to us in a manner that considered our cultural habits, religious beliefs and traditional medicine practices. That motivated me to work with populations from diverse backgrounds to conceptualize the social determinants that cause the health inequities I experienced. I learned that health disparities exist even in the U.S.

Even though I had significant exposure to how diversity impacts the delivery of health care, I was challenged by the Health P.A.S.S. program to understand how our preconceived biases play a major role in determining a patient’s health outcome. The Diversity Health Series films we watched and the guidance of Dr. Richard Salas, director of multicultural affairs at DMU, made me realize how globalization coupled with the media’s portrayal of certain populations tends to frame our understanding of cultural diversity very narrowly. I realized we always try to understand other cultures from our own point of view, rather than understanding them for who they are. I began looking into other cultures from their viewpoint, through a lens crafted by cultural humility.

The Health P.A.S.S. program’s variety of lectures, labs and shadowing experiences led to a sophisticated understanding of the teamwork needed to optimize patient care. Furthermore, I was able to interact with the 11 other outstanding students in the program and learned more about the challenges that they face growing up as a minority. Although I was able to draw parallels with my own life, I also appreciated the different experiences we had and how they shaped our journeys.

The Health P.A.S.S. program broadened my understanding of the rapidly growing immigrant population in the U.S. It taught me how I could I can bring in an insider’s perspective in treating immigrant populations, being mindful about the barriers they face seeking health care in this country. Someday I hope to be a DMU student to further learn how to deliver culturally responsive care, utilizing all the resources this great institution offers.

Koushik Paul

Koushik Paul is an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota majoring in American Indian studies. He aspires to become an osteopathic physician.

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