The Need for Developing a Cultural Understanding With Underserved Minority Patients in Medicine

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When I was an undergraduate student at Cornell University, I studied the barriers to HPV vaccination in the Native American Hopi tribe. Despite having one of the highest rates of cervical cancer, Hopi women did not use the HPV vaccine. When asked why during a focus group meeting, a member of the tribe retorted: “I don’t trust the vaccine. It might have smallpox like the blankets that killed my ancestors.” Understanding these reasons for mistrust, over the next two years, I designed educational materials that carefully explained how the vaccine worked (by introducing viral proteins) and how it could prevent a hysterectomy from possible metastatic complications (tailored towards the Hopi belief that organ removal was unnatural). Over a number of years, vaccination rates in the community slowly started increasing.
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