I’ve lived with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for many years and went through phases where my condition wasn’t as well controlled as it could be. I’ve had to work closely with my rheumatologist to ensure I am doing my best to manage my RA; but being a Latina can sometimes make it more challenging, especially when I experience bias or discrimination.
As a Latina, I experience discrimination and bias periodically, but one that occurs most often is when healthcare providers assume I don’t understand simple instructions even when we’re both speaking the same language. For example, one instance where I experienced bias was during an appointment with a doctor I had never met before. I had been seeking care for a recurrent throat infection and expressed that the treatment didn’t work and that I needed something else. Maybe the doctor didn’t look at my chart, or maybe she wasn’t used to seeing patients who look like me with RA, but whatever the reason, instead of listening, she argued that I didn’t follow the directions.
This experience still sticks with me as an example of the bias I sometimes experience as a young Latina woman in our healthcare system, and illustrates the difficulties some in the Latinx community face when trying to obtain medical care. Living with RA has taught me to be my own best advocate and to seek second opinions when a medical interaction doesn’t feel right.
Here are a few tips from my experiences that I hope will help ensure language barriers, differences in culture, and bias don’t get in the way of receiving the quality care you deserve and are entitled to.
“As a Latina, I experience discrimination and bias periodically, but one that occurs most often is when healthcare providers assume I don’t understand simple instructions even when we’re both speaking the same language.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Advocate for Yourself
In my experience, language barriers can sometimes have an impact on your disease management. For instance, my first language is Spanish, and I’ve found that some people may assume I don’t understand what is happening when my medical care is being discussed. Not only can there be a language barrier, but there can also be a bias that people who do not speak English are less educated or refined as those who speak English. These factors can make medical care even more challenging for people who are not bilingual.
Based on my upbringing as a Latina, I, like many others, have struggled with advocating for myself when interacting with healthcare providers or receiving medical advice. I understand that it can be an adjustment to realize there are times we must speak up for ourselves when making decisions about our health, whether it is picking up a prescription or raising questions to your doctor about your disease management.
I have learned that it’s absolutely okay to walk away from a nonurgent medical interaction without making an immediate decision about your care. You know your body better than anyone, and you shouldn’t feel like you need to blindly accept a decision, diagnosis, or treatment. It’s okay to go home and talk about medical decisions with family or friends, or get a second opinion from another doctor.
Have a Support Team
Living with RA can feel isolating, but medical appointments don’t have to be managed alone. Consider inviting a support person to appointments, phone conversations, and video chats with your doctor. This can help you understand any details and nuances of the discussion, especially if you have any concerns about language barriers. It may also be helpful to speak to your support team after your appointment to go over your notes and see if you might have follow-up questions for your doctor.
Talk with Doctors in Practical Terms
Even without language or cultural differences, it can be hard to communicate what RA symptoms feel like. Sometimes, this has led healthcare providers to misinterpret the severity of my symptoms. Your doctor needs to understand the severity of your symptoms to make an appropriate disease management decision, and language/culture barriers can sometimes contribute to misunderstandings about symptoms.
I suggest using practical language when describing your RA symptoms, such as “it’s hard to lift my arms to wash my hair” or “I can’t walk for longer than 20 minutes without rest.” Try using specific examples that will help doctors understand how your disease is affecting your day-to-day life.
Medical settings can be intimidating or overwhelming at times. Doctors may have limited time, and language/culture barriers can sometimes contribute to brief, unsatisfying visits. I like to write down questions ahead of time so I’m prepared for my appointment and take a little notebook with me to capture what the doctor is telling me so I can review my notes after the appointment.
Understand Your Condition
Having access to information about your RA is important. I have often seen people with the condition not understand the medical differences between other types of arthritis, which can cause confusion during their medical appointments. Knowledge about your specific condition is incredibly important to be able to effectively work with your doctor to find treatments that work for you.
Knowing when it is time to see your doctor is also a key component in understanding and managing your condition. It is important to always share how you’re feeling with your rheumatologist so they can help manage your symptoms. You’re not “bothering” your doctor. You are seeking out the care you deserve.
Finding a doctor who listens to you, works well with you, and cares about you can make all the difference when you’re struggling to manage your RA. My rheumatologist has had such a positive impact on my disease management and my life. No matter what language you speak or what culture you represent, you deserve to be heard.
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