UWS Clinician Working to Navigate Language Barriers

Learning how to utilize the health care system in a non-native country can be extremely difficult, especially when the language is foreign to you. To help curb the issue of language as a barrier to health care, Dr. Aaron Montgomery, chiropractic physician and assistant clinical director in the University of Western States (UWS) clinic system at the Gresham location, volunteers at public libraries in Portland helping with an English as a second language class (ESL) through the organization People-Places-Things.

“As a chiropractic physician at University of Western States, it’s important for us to give back to the community,” said Dr. Montgomery. “We hope that the people who come to this class know that they truly have a safe space both here and in the UWS clinics.”

navigating language barriers
Patrik McDade, founder and program director for People- Places-Things, and Dr. Aaron Montgomery, chiropractic physician and assistant clinical director in the UWS clinic system (Gresham).

The ESL classes around Portland vary in size, but generally have a minimum of around 10 students each class.

“Currently, there are about 15 classes around the Portland area and we’ve been going strong for seven years,” said Patrik McDade, founder and program director for People-Places-Things. “The people that come to these classes are actively looking for additional language and cultural skills, as well as to develop relationships and access to the civic system.”

In Oregon, where the majority of health care practitioners are Caucasian, some patients find it more difficult to reach across cultural and racial boundaries to access care.

“We need a way to train practitioners how to engage across differences so we can give culturally competent and respectful care,” said McDade. “Having practitioners volunteer at this class doesn’t solve all the problems, but it’s one way.”

While outreach programs and volunteering won’t completely correct systematic issues, it does start to build bridges within the community.

“Ultimately, this class is about developing relationships with people,” said McDade. “When you have that, it helps you understand why people are here, where they’re coming from and the specific needs they have. Those who come to this class learn how to communicate better – particularly with non-native English speakers – how to slow down, how to repeat a little bit and how to make that feel more natural.”