The Influence of Religion and Faith with your Latino Patients

Latino Culture & Healthcare: The Influence of Religion and Faith with your Latino Patients

Religion and Latino Patients

This is the third topic related to Latino Culture & Healthcare that I discussed with doña Sandra while on Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica.

Faith and Religion may play a more important role in the perspective of your Latino Patient than you might expect. In this video, Sandra and I discuss different aspects of religion and how faith impacts health perspectives.

Sandra shares her personal reflections on the influence of religion and faith with Latino Patients.  Some of the topics that we addressed are:

  • The differences related to the public displays of faith between Latinos and Americans in medical contexts

  • How this religious perspective affects the patient’s decision making process

Here is our conversation about the influence of religion and faith with your Latino patients with subtitles in Spanish (no English in this one). This is a great medical Spanish listening comprehension activity!

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Some of the challenges that many of my healthcare clients talk about are:

  1. How religion influences the relationship between patients and providers
  2. When a common belief system is not shared, how to manage the patient’s public displays of faith without being disrespectful
  3. How to honor a patient’s beliefs while simultaneously mentioning other things that will improve his/her health condition.

Some of Sandra’s insights into Latino culture are:

  1. Religion is a strong force in Latin America. Daily life (and even the language) is permeated with faith and devotion to God. For example, when you ask in Spanish ¿Cómo está?  (How are you?), the common answer is: Estoy bien, gracias a Dios (I’m fine, thanks to God).
  2. Other expressions, such as those used for making plans are full or religious connotations. For example:
    • Nos vemos mañana, si Dios quiere (See you tomorrow, if God wills it)
    • La próxima semana viajaremos, Dios mediante (Next week we will travel, God willing)
    • En diciembre visitaré a mi mamá, si Dios lo permite (In December, I will visit my mother, if God allows it)

The healthcare context is the same. A patient could have a serious condition and a group of doctors and nurses are taking care of him/her. If he/she improves and gets better, the patient generally would say it was due to God. Of course he/she will thank to the medical personnel but before that, he/she will thank God.

Additionally, in the majority of Spanish speaking countries, people are devoted to the Virgin Mary. This devotion also includes having a particular Virgin who is the patron saint of each country. For example:

  • La Virgen de los Ángeles is the patroness of Costa Rica
  • La Virgen de Guadalupe is the patroness of Mexico
  • La Virgen del Cobre  is the patroness of Cuba

In Costa Rican churches, there is a designated space where you will find little figures made of golden, silver, bronze or any other metal; these figures represent arms, legs, and bodies of people who had pain or a health condition in any of these body parts. The patient or family member asks God for help and usually makes a promise to La Virgen. As he/she gets better, they fulfill their promise by bringing these small figures to the church as a representation of the answered prayer.

The next topic I asked doña Sandra about was the influence of religion on perspectives of chronic desease.

She says that there is more acceptance regarding chronic diseases. The patient knows he/she will need life-long treatment or adjust lifestyle for the rest of their lives. But even when the patient is taking medicines for their desease, they are going to look for natural and/or religious alternatives such as:

  • Making a promise to the Virgin Mary
  • Asking God to cure the illness

Although there is an acceptance, there is not any resignation by the patient. There is a daily struggle between asking God for improvement and taking the medication, so the patient is going to say something like:

  • Tomo esta pastilla y, gracias a Dios, no estoy teniendo problemas (I’m taking this pill and, thank God, I’m not getting worse).

It wouldn’t be strange for the patient to prioritize the value of God’s will over the effects of the medication.

Finally, I asked Doña Sandra for her suggestions about how to honor a patient’s faith at the same time as you encourage a patient to consider the treatments that you can offer.

Sandra knows that medical personnel work hard to include patient’s beliefs into treatment, but it’s sometimes hard to express. Sandra shared an expression that could help address the medical treatment and procedure:

  • Bueno, sí, usted le pide a Dios pero tenemos que hacer esto porque si no lo hacemos, usted no va a estar bien (Well, yes, you can ask God but we need to do this because if we don’t, you’re not going to get better)

Doña Sandra also indicates that you, as a provider, need to be aware that even when you do everything possible to help the patient, he/she may still attribute the successful treatment to God or the Virgin Mary first before recognizing your efforts.

This conversation was recorded while I was on Medical Spanish Immersion with healthcare clients. If you’d like to work with me on immersion, get more information here and let’s start talking!

Keep up the good work speaking responsible Spanish to your patients! Check out our other books, classes & products to help you learn medical Spanish!

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