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Culture clash

Culture clash

“Saeed, wake up! We need to go to the hospital quickly. Your uncle is undergoing surgery. We are not sure what the problem is. You could probably explain it better”, said my father to me the very next day after my arrival back home in Saudi Arabia.

Great, here we go again! The rumors are true, I have become the unintended family physician - since I study medicine they probably assume that I know everything about the inner workings of the human body and how to fix every problem (just between you and me, this is not true). This was my immediate reaction. You have to understand, I am usually cranky when I wake up!

Thirty minutes later we were walking through a very crowded and rather gloomy hospital hallways, filled with people from many different nationalities. We asked around to figure out which room he was in. We walked into his room and when I saw him lying there in agony, I felt a little bit ashamed about my aforementioned attitude. In no more than two minutes, I was overwhelmed with the number of questions that were fired at me, for which I had no clear response. I knew exactly what was going on, I was just not certain how to explain it thoroughly to non-medics. However, this was not my main issue, but rather the reverse culture shock.

In the Netherlands, I am used to shared decision making, all treatment options must be discussed with the patient and they eventually make the choice, whereas back home, the choice lies in the hands of the medical professional, as he is viewed to be the expert. Additionally, if you present all options and discuss them with the patient, you might come across as an idiotic doctor who does not know what he must do - and who wants that? - as patient trust is the most valued asset in the treatment trajectory. I guess I have a long way to go to be able to effectively manage patients in my hometown, I will probably have to combine both the Dutch and Saudi cultures, and possibly unlearn a few things. This will be a daunting task, wish me luck!

Saeed Banamaa, medical student FHML

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