Scholarship Shortlist Alberta - Hasnaien Ahmed

Lost in Translation: The Physician-Patient Relationship: 2019 Scholarship Finalist (AB)

Hasnaien Ahmed

University of Alberta – Doctor of Medicine – 2023

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” -Nelson Mandela

In this intriguing quote, Mandela expresses his belief that speaking to an individual in his or her native language is an unparalleled form of communication relative to comprehension and emotional connection. I agree with Mandela in asserting this notion, and by stating my own goal of leveraging my current and soon-to-be-acquired language skills to promote preventative healthcare through physician-patient relationships unhindered by language barriers and informed by cultural awareness.

As a new medical student entering his first year of the University of Alberta’s MD program, and  an immigrant originally from Pakistan, immigrant and refugee healthcare outcomes are at the forefront of my plan for medical education. Furthermore, I am an aspiring hyperpolyglot who is greatly passionate about learning languages. I can currently speak Urdu, English, and French fluently as well as Mandarin and Spanish at an intermediate level, in the latter of which I will be continuing more lessons this fall alongside Swahili, Punjabi, and German classes.

I put great value in the language learning process and cultural knowledge that follows it. I have realized that unique grammatical structures and idioms in a language can reveal subtle schemas of communication and socialization between individuals that speak it. Thus, language study has enriched my understanding of how cultures perceive the world, by allowing me to adopt a part of their world view. Linguistic similarities between my learned and native languages have helped me relate to foreign cultural practices. I have benefited from this understanding by adapting my speaking style to specific individuals based on cultural awareness. I am able, when interacting with others in their native tongue, to form more organic relationships in which communication occurs smoothly and others feel at ease sharing information with me. I have had the privilege to engage in this profound relationship-building process through client-facing volunteer work, however I aim to apply these same skills in building equally gainful and trusting relationships in my future patients.

I believe that nourishing this skill set will empower me to excel in the role of the physician as an Educator. That is, an integral aspect of a physician’s duties is the responsibility inform patients. Disseminated through the physician-patient relationship, vital information pertaining to prognoses, prescribed lifestyle changes, and preemptive measures to mitigate disease factors can often be lost in translation. This information has direct consequences on healthcare outcomes because it’s comprehension, or lack thereof, by patients can determine the degree to which physician recommendations are considered and implemented. For example, language barriers are an emerging area of healthcare research in which researchers have determined that they create healthcare inequalities (Bowen, 2001). Specifically, a large constituency of Canadians that face barriers to adequate healthcare are immigrants who’s first languages are non-official languages (i.e. not English or French) (Bowen, 2001). Furthermore, non-native English-speaking immigrants have been found to display better health outcomes when seeking out language-concordant physicians (Bowen, 2001). As such, I aim to subvert the negative results of language barriers through my own language competency.

In summary, I aim to promote and champion the cause of preventative medicine through the reciprocation of trust, understanding and sharing by innovating the physician-patient relationship through language study. Through my enhanced communicative skills, I will be able to understand my patients concerns, fears and goals to such extent that I will be able to deliver better, culturally conscious and specific medical consultation to my patients. In conclusion, I hope that the delivery of my advice will empower my patients with knowledge required to make health-conscious choices that will prevent the onset of disease and injury while protecting them from misinformation and pseudoscience. It is for these reasons that I believe my professional and person goals synergize with the mission of the Copeman Preventative Healthcare Scholarship, which if received, will be spent on furthering my language studies and medical education.


Literature Cited

Bowen, S., (2001), Language Barriers in Access to Healthcare. Health Canada. ISBN: 0-662-30538-8.