Cultural Diversity in the Medical Profession [Interview][Transcript]

dr_sylvia_morris_medical_professionGuest: Dr. Sylvia Morris
Presenter: Neal Howard
Guest Bio: Dr. Sylvia E. Morris, MD, MPH is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. Dr. Morris’s goal is to utilize media to improve our nation’s public health by combining her training in Internal Medicine, Holistic Medicine and Public Health.
Currently, she is a Senior Medical Director on the Revenue Cycle Solutions team at The Advisory Board Company and a contributor for the US News & World Reports Medical School Admissions’ blog. Dr. Morris earned a Bachelor’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley. She gained a Master’s degree in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, with a certificate in Health Policy and Management. Her Medical degree is from Georgetown University School of Medicine. She completed residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle.

Segment overview: Dr. Sylvia Morris, MD, talks about cultural diversity in the medical profession.

Health Professional Radio – Cultural Diversity

Neal Howard: Hello and welcome to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. Our guest in studio today is returning to talk with us Dr. Sylvia Morris, she’s certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine as well as the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. She’s currently Senior Medical Director on the Review Cycle Solutions Team at the Advisory Board Company and also a contributor for the US News and World Reports Medical School Admissions Blog. And she’s with us to talk about the importance of physicians or perspective physicians being culturally aware of the people that they’re going to treat. Welcome to the program Dr. Morris.

Dr. Sylvia Morris: Thank you very much, it’s great to be here.

N: Thank you. When considering going to medical school, not being a medical practitioner myself, my sister’s a doctor but I never did ask her. You’ve been to Ohio and Tennessee and all over these different places. Is being a doctor the same no matter where you go? That’s the question that I never asked her. How do you handle the cultural diversities that have to be prevalent in the medical field?

M: That’s a really great question, no one has asked me sort of about the geographic or the cultural diversity where I practice for different places across the country. To give you a little background I’m from Los Angeles originally, I went to undergrad in the Bay area, I went to medical school in Washington D.C., I did my training in internal medicine in Seattle, Washington and I’ve worked in both Baltimore as well as now I currently live and work in Atlanta. So I do this kind of coastal thing, my family thinks I’m a little bit make a lot of noise from place to place but you’re right there are differences in the people. The people are really amazing and you learn so much from every individual patient you have. The medicine is the same, all of the guidelines, what we’re supposed to do that doesn’t change but certainly who’s in the room, I had never sort of interacted with native American populations, I did that in Seattle and that was sort of eye-opening and definitely in the south there are just some really interesting regional variations that the people that you’d be and the things that we eat and we talk about. Los Angeles is certainly a fantastic melting pot and working with…Latino communities. So the people that sort of changes but then it’s just really kind of broadens our ability to have exposures to people who are not like us but then what you find is just simply the commonality.

N: Do you find that it’s easier to deal with total cultural change based on region of the world or the country and nationality as opposed to simply the change of culture that has to do with nothing more than age regardless of your ethnicity?

M: Age… region and culture, really I think that they’re equal in the sense that our job as physicians is to really kind of find hopefully some common ground and the common ground is the fact that the patient is ill or has a problem and that it is my job to try and help them back to health and wellness. So whether I’ve had patients who are 99 and 100 and they are terrific because those that are still really sharp mentally, I got the chance to ask them, ‘What do think about sort of the world as it is now? Whether it’s the invention of cellphones and all of these other things?’ so for me age and culture it matters not, it’s just a great learning opportunity.

N: Great. And I’m also curious as to statistics fly around, commercials fly around, we see all of these commercials that are being advertised to consumers who can’t get these things without prescriptions, you still have to go to the physician and the statistics floating around based that the minorities are more likely to be diagnosed with this, that or the other. What about when someone comes and they’ve got a certain expectation based on statistics or what they’ve seen on TV or some show and then all of a sudden you drop a bomb on them and they’re in disbelief, a little bit above and beyond with what someone would be who kind of expected the diagnosis?

M: Well certainly managing expectations for patients is really important. I also think it is important to listen to the patient and to try and figure out what it is that they were reading. So Google is a blessing and a curse and that a lot of our patients have googled what they believe is their disease process and the intervention, they google their doctors, it’s really quite an interesting phenomenon over the last decade. And it is still our responsibility as physicians to prescribe the correct treatment and because they come in with an expectation. Let’s take as an example antibiotics, so a patient comes to me, they have a cold, they think that they need antibiotics and when I examine them, I determined that that’s not the appropriate treatment, so then you must have a conversation with the patient to help them to understand the exploding world of antibiotic resistance and how we all have to play our part in trying to reduce that as well as to have them understand that if I prescribe an antibiotic when it is not needed, that it could help to create the environment where antibiotics no longer work for patients who are really sick.

N: Have you found that there are some patients who, I guess have different expectations from a physician based on their culture? Maybe they’ve come from a different country and doctors there have a different bedside manner so they expect the bedside manner here in the States to be the same or to be totally different? How do you deal with folks that have an expectation of you based on the fact that you’re a western practitioner in the United States and they’ve come from, I don’t know any place else?

M: Certainly we have to approach every patient with respect. There I’ve had some patients where they asked me not to disclose a diagnosis to the patient, a family member had said, ‘In our culture we do that, do xyz.’ So we sort to have to weigh what’s important and what is culturally appropriate and respectful a long with sort of what we do here in the United States. There are certainly there are cultures where they do not want a female physician, so it is a delicate balance but at the end of the day we have to provide the best care.

N: Where can our listeners go and get some more information about some of the cultural diversity issues that may be faced in the medical school and once you’re in your practice?

M: Definitely, people can look at and that is a great site that really talks about certainly the health disparities and minority populations as well as for the…physicians of color. As I may say that only 6% of practicing physicians are African American or Latino or Native American or they comprise 25% of the American population, so there is certainly some more to do.

N: Absolutely. Well it’s been a pleasure talking with you this morning, thank you for returning.

M: Absolutely, thank you. I look forward to the next time.

N: Thank you. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard with Dr. Sylvia Morris. And we’ve been talking about some of the cultural diversity issues in the medical profession, how to navigate those waters to become the most successful physician that you can be. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at and also at and you can also subscribe to this podcast on iTunes.

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