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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Teaching Foreign-Born Doctors The Ways Of Rural Iowa

Have you ever had trouble communicating with a doctor from a different background? A quarter of all medical doctors in the U.S. are foreign born, and that’s led to some misunderstandings in places like rural Iowa, where farmers are trying to communicate medical problems to doctors from India or Egypt.

In Iowa they’re trying to bridge that gap with a cultural literacy program that teaches foreign-born doctors how to make small talk about farming, why Iowans keep talking about the University of Iowa Hawkeyes.

Doctors are also taught how to recognize and respond when a patient is acting “Iowa nice,” meaning they don’t open up about certain illnesses in fear of inconveniencing the doctor.

The program is at the Mercy Medical Center in Mason City, Iowa, and it’s created and taught by two University of Northern Iowa Professors: Michelle Devlin and Mark Grey.

Mark Grey, anthropology professor, told Here & Now’s Robin Young that “We spend an awful lot of time talking about understatement, how polite they [Iowans] tend to be, which of course drives foreign-born doctors nuts because they come from cultures that tend to be much more expressive.”


  • Mark Grey, anthropologist at the University of Northern Iowa

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