Thank you goes a long way

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By: Jose Rodriguez, MD

I have now been in Salt Lake City practicing for almost one year. Although it took me a long time to do it, I am pleased to say that I love it here more than before and look forward to a summer that was at least as amazing as this past winter.

One of the things that attracted me to this job was the diversity of my patient population.  I work in the Latino/Spanish clinic at Redwood Health Center near West Valley City. I knew I would see Spanish-speaking patients, but I had no idea about the true diversity of my panel. Redwood Health Center sees more refugees than any other center in the University of Utah Health System. And even though there are no longer any refugees from Latin America, I am grateful to see refugees.

This is not the first time that I have seen refugees; a wise residency program director and clinic leader set me up as an intern with refugee families every session. When I voiced my frustrations with the communication, she suggested I try to connect with them by learning a word in their language. Now I have the opportunity to apply that teaching again, and I have decided that the word I would like to learn is: thank you. The following is a short list of how to say thank you in the languages of my patients:

Thank You English USA and other places
Dane-bat Nepali Nepal
Jesu tinde Burmese Myanmar
Ta Blu Karen Thailand (Myanmar)
Ua Ma Santahe Somali Somalia
Havala-jiepo Croatian Coratia
Initché Bambara Mali
Sucria Hindi India (Nepal)
Je jugaba sai Kachin Myanmar
Ashanti Swahili Congo
Tabui Karenni Myanmar
Mercimingie Lingala Congo
Inéscha lei Dinka South Sudan
Kamang yu Vietnamese Vietnam
Malo Tongan Tonga
Oh-Kun  Khmer Cambodia
Kaalon (kan lawmh) Hakha chin Myanmar (India)
Galatoma Oromo Ethiopia
Shokran Arabic Iraq

It would seem that most of my refugee patients are from Africa and Southern Asia. It is completely amazing to me that we could have so many patients in Salt Lake City from that part of the world.

As I have mentioned before, many moons ago (25 years to be more or less exact) I lived in this area. I know first hand that the diversity of languages that are in my patient panel did not exist here at that time.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve these patients. I am grateful that these patients have chosen Salt Lake City as their home and am grateful for their opportunity to be free of the wars, poverty, diseases, and other obstacles to living a happy life. I am also grateful for the opportunity that I have to convey this sentiment to them. I have spent 1-2 extra minutes in countless sessions saying the following: I know that the news is difficult to hear and that someone who has come here as a refugee might think that we as Americans do not want you here, but there are hundreds of millions of Americans, like me, who are thrilled that your difficult journey has brought you here. I am glad that you live in our community. While I do not yet have the ability to understand their responses in their native tongue, the message on their faces is clear: They universally smile with a brightness that lights up a room. So I want to thank my immigrant patients for sharing their light with me. Every encounter seems to brighten my day as long as I take the extra minute to tell them how I feel. Turns out thank you was the right word to learn after all.

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Jose Rodriguez, MD, is a clinical professor with the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah. He practices at the Redwood Health Center and his areas of interest in research include minority groups, global health, and more. 

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