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Dr. Natasha Sriraman on a discussion panel with Women in White Coats authors

Dr. Sriraman Gets Personal in New Book

Dr. Natasha Sriraman, a CHKD pediatrician, is sharing her journey to becoming a doctor in a new book of essays titled The Chronicles of Women in White Coats. In the book, she and 19 other female physicians share their personal accounts of what goes through their minds before and after seeing those they care for, and offers a glimpse into their personal lives as mothers, wives, caregivers, daughters, friends and more.

Dr. Sriraman’s essay “Check A Patient’s Culture As You Would Any Vital Sign” highlights the importance of cultural beliefs and the role they play in a patient’s care. In the excerpt below, Dr. Sriraman details an experience as a third-year medical student in Brooklyn, where she met an Islamic family who she says taught her that “the true art of medicine lies in patient interaction” and that a patient’s “cultural, linguistic and religious facts directly affect health care.”

As an Indian immigrant with physician parents, I had experienced various aspects of healthcare from numerous perspectives. The racial, cultural and linguistic diversity was welcoming. Even though I was able to speak 3 languages, I didn’t have the opportunity to use it until I was in my OB rotation. Even years later, I still remember the situation so vividly: the clinic, the staff rushing around, me standing there in my short white coat — but most important, the patient, a woman in a hijab, the traditional Muslim head covering, standing with her husband.

This woman, an immigrant from Bangladesh, who had recently arrived in this country, entered our OB safety-net clinic for her prenatal care. The husband conversed with the nurse in his broken English. While some raised their voices, the look of frustration on their faces told me that something just wasn’t right. I gingerly approached the couple, the woman welcoming my presence since she realized that I looked similar to her/them.

Although we didn’t speak the same language, between his English and my Hindi coupled with the cultural nuances, the situation became clearer. This woman, an older woman here in the US to have her baby, was Muslim, as evidenced by her hijab. In Islam, maintaining modesty is an overarching Islamic ethic. For observant Muslim women, covering up the body is important when they are in the company of males whom they are not related by blood or marriage. On this particular day, there were only male OB residents who were seeing patients. When the husband tried to explain their concerns and religious restrictions, they were basically given an ultimatum: see the male resident or leave the clinic.

I tried to explain the situation to the nurses and residents — but to no avail. In her Bengali tongue, which overlapped with my cursory Hindi, she asked me: “Can you deliver my baby?” I explained to her that I was a doctor-in-training, and while I was unable to do so, I would try to help them. As I made my way through different staff, nurses and doctors, finally, my concerns were taken seriously. I found that there was a midwife service affiliated with the OB program. I sat down with the couple explaining how the midwives (all women) would now takeover her OB care. To say they were grateful would be an understatement.

To this day, this story sticks with me. I think, while the mother and father thanked me, I really must thank them for what they taught me. During the preclinical years in medical school, people always tell you that the real learning begins during clinical rotations. While we learn the pathophysiology of disease, memorize enzymes and dissect cadavers to learn the orientation between bone and muscle, the true art of medicine lies in patient interaction.

Today, Dr. Sriraman shares her experiences and what she has learned with incoming medical students and the next generation of doctors in her role as an associate professor of pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Read the complete essay by purchasing your copy of Women in White Coats here.

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About Elizabeth McDougall

About Elizabeth   McDougall

With more than 15 years experience in digital communications, Elizabeth McDougall oversees web content creation and digital strategy. In addition, she manages and monitors CHKD’s primary social media channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Prior to CHKD, she was a web producer at NewsChannel 9 in Syracuse and held a similar position at WAVY-TV 10 in Hampton Roads prior to that.

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