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January 26, 2012

Solving Communication Barriers

I love working in New York City. There are so many wonderful, beautiful people here from all over the world. There is no doubt that, not only in NYC, but everywhere in America, diversity is increasing. This is a good thing, because I believe that a variety of viewpoints is enriching.

However, there are pitfalls. For me, language is a barrier. While I managed to wend my way through college, changing majors 3 times and finally finishing after 6 years, I managed to dodge the foreign language requirement. I speak English and can only count to 10 in six different languages, including Mandarin. Many of the patients I encounter in our hospital speak Russian, a language for which I only know "yes" and "no." This makes performing physical therapy evaluations difficult and frustrating for both me and the patient.

I may have found a solution. By utilizing several standardized scales for things such as pain and rate of perceived exertion, patients can report what is happening in their bodies. By using picture flash cards, I can figure out much of the information I need to gather about their living situation, the assistive devices they use, and mobility barriers such as steps into the home. Recruiting a few co-workers with foreign language skills, I can fill in the rest of my cards with a few key questions in a yes/no format.

No matter your knowledge and experience base, no education is wasted. Those graphic design skills I picked in my undergraduate major have served me well. When I owned my own business, I designed my own logo, business cards and forms. I can still use those skills to design flash cards in a variety of languages to carry with me during patient interviews: Spanish, Russian, Cantonese, and Creole. I can even use my counting skills to help patients monitor their exercise reps. Of course, a smile and a gentle touch (learned during my massage therapy training) need no translation.

Posted by linda at January 26, 2012 9:16 AM

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