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How This Doctor's Hispanic Culture Helps Him Connect with Patients

by -

UnityPoint Health physician and his father

Written by Dr. Carlos A Jaramillo IV, UnityPoint Health Hospitalist. 

Growing Cultural Roots

Growing up Hispanic in Madison, Wisconsin — home of our UnityPoint Health - Meriter location — was complicated and has certainly changed over the years. As a child, it was uncommon to hear Spanish, and our food and culture didn’t seem to exist outside the home. I even remember helping my mom hunt for mangos and avocados, because back then, these weren't easy to find in the supermarkets. My mom also met her best friend while playing with us at a park, because she heard her speaking Spanish. They formed a fast friendship, brought together by their shared heritage. It's much different now. Hispanic culture has a palpable presence in the community.

As a child, I spoke English in school but Spanish at home. With my family, I lived in one culture, while at school, I lived in another. On one hand, I experienced the more traditionally communal and family-oriented focus of Hispanic culture. On the other, I learned the individualism and self-discipline, more common in Anglo Saxon cultures.

A Deep Understanding of the Hispanic Community

Being bilingual and bicultural has been a blessing. The dichotomy between individualistic and communal cultures is the same patients face in their experience with illness, and that impacts their care decision-making process. It has enabled me to help my patients of various backgrounds find a voice in expressing their needs, feelings and fears. 

As a physician, one of my most important jobs is helping the individual, and the family that loves and supports them, navigate their experience with illness. Each patient has a unique family culture. I find being bicultural has made me more attune to this and enables me to understand my patients and their families within their cultural context.

I see not only my patients as my patients — but also their families. I think this makes them more comfortable with healthcare decisions, open communication and raw vulnerability. For me, that's one of the most amazing things about being a caregiver: people dealing with the loss of their health and function welcome me into their lives at their most vulnerable moment, sharing things with me they wouldn't tell even their closest relationships. Knowing I can give them more comfort and support, because I have a deeper understanding and connection with their culture and language is an honor.

Every caregiver has a unique relationship with their patients that includes more trust than an average acquaintance. I take this trust very seriously, and every night I go home knowing everything I did that day was done with the intention of improving human life. 

A Shared Family History 

When it came to choosing a place to work, UnityPoint Health felt like the obvious fit. My father has worked at UnityPoint Health - Meriter for more than 30 years. In his role as an interpreter, I’ve watched him help people express themselves outside of their cultures, and in an unfamiliar healthcare system, from a young age — something I now get to experience as a physician.

I remember walking into the building to meet my dad for lunch, volunteering as a pre-med and finding a quiet place to study.

Today, people from every department tell me, “I remember when you were this tall coming to meet your dad.” Even though I’ve worked at UnityPoint Health for several years now, I still regularly hear of the respect, fondness and gratitude people feel towards him as well as the values and integrity he displays in his work and relationships. 

I can see the impact he’s had here — working in the same building has expanded my respect for him and only made us closer.