Clinical settings are not well known for their welcoming and warm environment. Furthermore, the hospital setting can be overwhelming to navigate, and it’s usually not considered the ideal work environment. However, after spending my summer doing research at Hainan Provincial Nongken General Hospital in Hainan, China, the hospital became like home. Although this wasn’t the case from the very beginning, there were several steps I took to ensure that I established relationships and trust with the community and the people I was working with.
Having never worked in a clinical environment, I faced several challenges when I arrived at Hainan Hospital, including the language barrier since I didn’t speak Chinese. In addition, it seemed challenging to work with the physicians given that doctors in China are overwhelmingly busy and have a large patient load. I will admit that prior to arriving at the hospital, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone, and my participation in the project would be limited because of the language barrier. I overcame this challenge by trying to understand my setting and making myself more visible. Understanding that these doctors have an overwhelmingly heavy work load, I tried to facilitate their participation in the project as much as possible in a practical and easy way.
The first few days in the office, it seemed like I did very little speaking and spent most of my time hovering over my computer. Additionally, I remember when I first met the doctor who would become my research advisor, she blatantly asked me asked me why I decided to do research in China if I didn’t speak Chinese. At the time, she expressed her worries about working together and navigating language and cultural barriers. I told her that I was interested in china and given that China’s high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, I thought China would be a good place to pursue my interest in non-communicable disease research.
The current friendship and bond that we have developed is a testament that building connections with people is possible despite language or cultural differences. Since I was determined not to be invisible, I found ways to communicate with the other physicians such as through basic hand motions and tried to learn as much Chinese as I could. In this process I also learned that the doctors knew a few English words which made communication easier. They just happen to be just as shy as me when saying a few words in a foreign language.
As we got to know each other better, the doctors become more willing to speak up and learned to trust me. Aside from having courage, showing them my determination for hard work and enthusiasm for the project played a key role in developing these relationships. In addition I was most surprised by the all warmth and hospitality I was provided during my work and stay at the hospital. Building relationships and having connections with the physicians has been the most rewarding aspect of the project for me.
By Ginny De La Cruz (left), Master of Global Health, Class of 2016