Lost in Translation – Health Communication for Immigrants

By on March 22, 2016

(Pexels photo)
(Pexels photo)

Family separation can be a painful and emotional experience. Emigrating from your home country to begin again in another often means leaving part of your family behind. Much depends on finances of course but obtaining Visas, airline tickets and housing without sponsorship certainly isn’t easy. And once you are settled, finding work in a new country is no mean feat either. Add to the fact that new immigrants to Canada often have multiple mouths to feed and it’s little wonder why the stress of immigration often leads to health trouble.

While this isn’t so much a problem for the young and healthy, bringing one’s elderly parents to Canada with you often means a long journey into a bewildering new setting. The culture is different, the climate is different and while you may have some form of support network in place from fellow countrymen who emigrated before you, you are still very much on your own.

So what happens if an elderly family member develops unanticipated health problems? Sure, you can take them to the doctor and benefit from Canada’s universal health care but it may not be quite so simple if a sick parent doesn’t speak the same language as the doctor. Local ethnic areas in Canada often have neighbourhood clinics in place where nurses that speak specific languages are hired to make the stress of appointments easier for immigrants but there’s no guarantee one will be available when you need them. Worse, if you find yourself sent to a hospital to see a specialist the chances are even greater that there will be translation difficulties.

“It’s a problem,” says Nevena Djuricic, Immigration Consultant Diploma faculty member at Ashton College. “No one likes to see a family member sick and it’s a nightmare when the communication breaks down between doctor and patient. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have a translator with you.” With most medical situations, communication difficulties abound when the vocabulary of the doctor doesn’t resonate well with the communication style of the patient. For Canadians this is a common occurrence but it’s one that is easily alleviated by the benefits of a shared language.

But for immigrants unfamiliar with the language and lacking accurate translation, a routine visit to a clinic or a hospital can quickly turn into a complicated mess of misunderstandings. “Another problem is that some older immigrants are skeptical of a medical system they haven’t experienced before. So if you’re translating for a parent or a relative on behalf of a doctor you need to reassure them. It’s really no different than how we might be skeptical of seeing a doctor in another country when we’re travelling” says Djuricic.

Beyond the help of a family member, the services of an Immigration Consultant are invaluable, especially during the early stages of the immigration process. An Immigration Consultant can make the complex process of arranging paperwork and navigating the tricky field of admissions hearings simpler and more straight-forward than you can do on your own. And if a family member you’re planning on bringing to Canada has pre-existing health issues, an Immigration Consultant will know how to manage this documentation for these in conjunction with the Government of Canada’s need to ensure the safety of Canadians.