Medical Assisting Students Reach Out to Hands Across the World

Posted by on September 25, 2012

April Rolfes distributes handouts, with the help of an interpreter, at Hands Across the World.

Everyone needs to be aware of the dangers of high blood pressure and the benefits of good nutrition, so Medical Assisting students at Minnesota School of Business-St. Cloud decided they wanted to apply their skills to educate the public about disease prevention and health maintenance. Their audience, however, was unusual in that its members did not speak much English.

Two classes of MSB medical students presented three sessions on Nutrition, Disease Prevention and Blood Pressure at Hands Across the World, a school for Central Minnesota immigrants. They also gave free blood pressure checks to the audience.

Hands Across the World, according to co-founder Brianda Cediel, strives to be “the first contact for refugees and immigrants who have come with their families to make Central Minnesota their new home.” Current classes are filled with Somali refugees who speak little to no English and are unfamiliar with basic living skills in their new culture. Cediel was excited to have MSB Patient Care I and CMA (Certified Medical Assistant) Review students deliver these important messages–with the help of an interpreter.

The Medical Assisting students agree that the experience was both rewarding and a challenge. April Rolfes and Melissa Kreitzer said they appreciated how the Hands Across the World students responded to them with questions and curiosity.  They both found translating the language could be frustrating, especially concepts that have no relevance or context in Somalia.

For example, said Rolfes, “A challenge for me was trying to explain to them why they need to eat more . . . whole grains vs. white bread.” The idea of choices between breads is not a common consideration for them, so explaining how processed bread is less healthy was hard.

Another example of cultural differences confusing the lesson came during the cooking meats section of a PowerPoint. Students displayed a chart of suggested temperatures for cooking meat, including chicken. The method for determining temperature was by a meat thermometer. The slide elicited many questions by members of the audience until finally the interpreter said, “he wants to know if you have to do that when boiling chicken.”

At that moment, the medical students understood that the concept of a meat thermometer was foreign to these students because their method of cooking meat is completely different from the students’ traditional methods of roasting or frying.

“Working with Somali immigrants was very unique,” comments Kreitzer. “It opened my eyes to how they may feel in a ‘new’ world.”

Rolfes sees how the experience at Hands Across the World extends to her future career. “In the clinic setting, we will be dealing with patients that don’t know much about medicine and don’t speak the language. It was a look into how difficult and fun it can be to handle different situations . . . . ”

Patient Care instructor Robyn Lauermann agrees. “When . . . [students] are working in the field they may be put in positions with working with other cultures and are unsure how to handle the situation. I find this event to be very helpful to all that participated.”

Teaching others is always a great way to learn yourself. Teaching others who can, in turn, teach you is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.




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