Intersections of Culture & Health

Inside a clinic room.

Recently, I have been reflecting on my undergraduate experience and what it means to me. I am so thankful to have a college education, professors who invest in my personal growth, and peers with whom I can discuss ideas. My time at Brandeis has taught me the importance of interdisciplinary and experiential learning. For instance, in my science lab courses, I learned how to think critically and apply learned concepts to real life situations. My Anatomy & Physiology course brought together concepts learned in biology and chemistry, and this background has allowed me to better understand viral Hepatitis B (the health disparity that I am addressing as an intern at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center). Additionally, at Brandeis I have been able to explore the complex intersection between culture and medicine through my anthropology course, Introduction to the Comparative Study of Human Societies. After reading ethnographic texts, as well as the book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” I realized the importance of cultural sensitivity and open-mindedness. I try my best to keep these cross-cultural communication principles in mind while administering surveys to patients at my internship.

Attending a Grand Rounds Conference to learn about the impact of CBW programs.

Having studied both science and culture in the classroom, I was not sure what to expect when I initially began my internship at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center. However, it has been extremely encouraging to witness culturally competent care being executed in the Health Center on a daily basis. The physician whom I shadow once a week is bilingual and understands the cultural backgrounds of patients (e.g. why they may be reluctant to try physical therapy or take prescribed medications). Language interpreters and nurses are readily available to provide support. Staff members have excellent communication skills to assist a significant number of patients with low income or low English proficiency. Everyone works like a well-oiled machine to serve a diverse community in need. I am also amazed by all of the research, health education, advocacy, and care management programs that have been implemented throughout the years to promote healthy living in target communities.

Outside of the classroom at Brandeis, I have learned about various non-Western cultures through tutoring English as a Second Language (ESL) to Brandeis dining hall employees. There are so many challenges with learning a new language, and with this in mind, I find the service that Charles B. Wang Community Health Center provides for immigrant populations to be incredibly inspiring and valuable.

Literature review on Hepatitis B prevalence in NYC boroughs and various ethnicity groups.

Lastly, during my time at Brandeis, I was able to participate in a university-wide rally supporting the development of a Brandeis Asian American Studies Program. As a member of the task force involved in planning the event, I developed confidence in my own voice. I have learned at this internship that confidence and clear communication goes a long way in any career. In the public health sector, effective research skills, science writing, and oral communication skills are needed in order to convince government officials to allocate resources for a public health issue. Good communication also allows stakeholders to make informed, effective policy decisions that can save lives, prevent diseases, and reduce health system costs. I am humbled by what I have learned thus far at my internship, and am excited to be a part of expanding research initiatives on Asian American health.

-Michelle Yan ‘19

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