Cultural competency is one of the six core competencies for NHC members to develop over their service term, but I never expected its significant role within each task I do as a health educator. I serve as a health educator with a specific focus on the National Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) at Advocate Trinity Hospital on the Southeast side of Chicago. Coming into this position I knew I was going to have to learn about the culture within the community I am serving before I was able to do anything else. I grew up on the North side of Chicago so I assumed I would have some background to relate to the community, but I quickly realized I was wrong. During the first two weeks I engaged in a conversation with anyone I crossed paths with and made a point to exclusively listen to anything an individual had to say. Each conversation convinced me more so that the curriculum the Center for Disease Control provides for the DPP classes was not relevant. It recommends eating more vegetables and less carbohydrates, increasing physical activity by walking around the block, and getting off the bus a few stops early and walking; all of which are far easier said than done for this community. Talking with the participants made me realize that they would love to eat more vegetables, but the grocery stores with produce are few and far between.
Even once they get their hands on vegetables, they shared that they do not know how to prepare them because they were raised on meat and carbohydrates. They dream of being able to walk outside more, but they are too afraid to because of the violence in the area. Without engaging with individuals to understand what influences their habits, it just appears that they are uninterested in changing their lifestyle. The reality is that they each want to lead a healthier life but do not know how to because the recommendations are rarely culturally relevant.
Flash forward six months and the participants are doing incredible! The most significant benefit of the DPP thus far has been the nutrition and cooking education provided to the participants. All of the participants are women of color and value food as a significant part of their heritage. Instead of telling them to scratch everything they know and start over, we worked together to tweak their family recipes based on what was discussed about nutrition. We were even fortunate enough to have a cooking demonstration and learn how to cook vegan Mexican food on Taco Tuesday! Health education is not about starting from square one. It requires cultural competency with constant collaboration to determine what is feasible for each individual.
This blog post was written by NHC Chicago 2019-20 member Christina Baum.
Christina is a Health Educator at Advocate Trinity Hospital.