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Your Clinic Visit: For Immigrant Women
and Others New to the US Medical System

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Learning about health care and seeing a health care provider in a new country can be difficult. Even if you can speak English well or have an interpreter it might be hard. You and your provider may have different words or ideas about health and illness. The steps you need to take to see your new provider may be different than in your native country. The following list may help you with your visit.

Before Your Visit

When you have made an appointment, ask the office staff:

  • What bus goes near the office?
  • At what bus stop to get off the bus.
  • When should I come?
  • What should you bring?
  • Where to park, if you are driving or someone will drive you to your visit.
  • If you are bringing a friend or family member with you.
  • If you will need an interpreter, be sure to ask the staff to arrange this.

Getting Ready for Your Visit

Make a list of questions or concerns.

  • Think about what you have already done to try to feel better. Make notes about this too, and take them with you to your visit
  • Plan to bring a friend or family member if that would help you explain.

At Your Visit

  • Arrive early. If you come late your visit may be very short.
  • Tell your story to the provider. Be honest and use the list you brought.
  • Tell the provider all the medicines and herbs you use for your health.
  • Tell your provider about any use of food supplements, special foods, tobacco, alcohol or other drugs or substances.
  • If you have fears and worries, it will help your provider care for you if you can share them.
  • Talking about sensitive areas can be hard, but if you have questions or concerns, she or he will try to help you.

About Your provider

Western providers learn that it is important to understand more about the patient than the physical concerns or symptoms. They will probably ask you about your physical concerns and symptoms, but they may also ask you about how you feel and your mood.

They may also ask you some questions about your family and possible help they may provide. They may even ask you about your finances. They do not do this to pry. They want to make suggestions for your care that make sense medically. They also want the suggestions they make to be ones you could follow,and that are possible financially and culturally.

The more information you can share, the better prepared your provider will be.

When your provider makes suggestions, it is important that you feel these are explained so you can understand what she or he wants you to do and why the suggestion is made. It is fine and important to ask questions. Sometimes providers think they have explained, but you may not understand. Go ahead and ask questions!

Get Instructions from Your Provider

Make certain that your questions and concerns are mentioned and that your provider explains how she or he will approach your concerns

  • Repeat instructions back to the provider to be certain you understand.
  • If you can read, or have someone in your home who can read English, have your provider write instructions. It is hard to remember everything from a visit.

Know the Right Phone Number

When you schedule your visit or at registration, ask:

  • During the day, what phone number do I call if I have a problem or a question?
  • If the office is closed, what phone number do I call?

Web Resources:

"Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People":

Office of Minority Health Resource Center:

The Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health:

The National Women's Health Information Center, Health Resources for Minority Women:

Sharon A Dobie, MD
Associate Professor
Department of Family Medicine
University of Washington Medical Center

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