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Friday, March 17, 2000

Surgeon General says physicians should become sensitive to diversity of cultures

The following insensitive and potentially hurtful comments have been slightly altered to protect the identities of the doctors who made them:

What do these scenarios have in common? They are all examples of "cultural incompetence," or situations in which doctors don't have the knowledge, sensitivity or interpersonal skills to understand and work effectively with people from cultures other than their own.

They were presented during a symposium Thursday on the fundamentals of culturally competent orthopaedics, which included a presentation by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD. Dr. Satcher described how the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working at the national level to deal with this challenge-and how practicing orthopaedists can do the same at home by becoming more sensitive to other cultures.

"We are not going to have all of the experiences of the people we serve," Dr. Satcher said. "We may not know what it's like to live on a reservation or to not have people speak your language or appreciate your culture.

In late January, Dr. Satcher and HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala unveiled "Healthy People 2010," the Department's most recent 10-year agenda of national health goals. For the first time, the agenda included as a primary goal the elimination of racial and ethnic disparities in health status.

HHS is not alone in its efforts. Dr. Satcher noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has funded 32 communities to develop programs for eliminating disparities in care for diabetes, cancer, and other diseases that disproportionately impact minority patient populations.

Now, advocates of culturally competent medicine are hoping AAOS members will join the effort-not only for the patient, but for their own benefit.

Augustus A. White, MD, who moderated the symposium, said the practice of culturally competent medicine "substantially enhances professional relations with our female and minority medical colleagues as well as our patients. It results in good patient-physician rapport, which diminishes litigation, improves compliance and improves outcomes."

Dr. Satcher agreed, and urged orthopaedists to critically examine their attitudes toward patients of other cultures and races. "It is very clear we all have cultural incompetencies," he said. "The question is whether we act to deal with our own incompetence."

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Last modified 17/March/2000 by IS