Pritzker Students and Faculty Bridge Language and Cultural Barriers in Chicago's Chinatown

Asad Qadir and Lisa Sun
Photo by David Christopher

Left to right: Pritzker School of Medicine students Asad Qadir and Lisa Sun provided medical guidance to members of Chicago’s Asian community during volunteer clinics in December.

By Kelin Hall

Biyun Ye emigrated from China four years ago, but avoids the U.S. healthcare system, she says, preferring herbal remedies in Chinatown markets where she feels at home. That wasn’t the case, though, on December 10, when she was one of more than 200 immigrants who lined up for a free influenza vaccination at two community-based organizations, the Chinese American Service League in Chinatown and Metropolitan Asian Family Services on Chicago’s North Side. The vaccination clinics were staffed by volunteers from the Medical Center, Pritzker School of Medicine and Rush College of Nursing.

“In total, we administered 223 flu shots, screened 65 people for diabetes and more than 100 for glaucoma, performed blood pressure evaluations and collected information about cancer screening behavior,” said Karen Kim, MD, associate professor of medicine at the Medical Center. “More than 400 people came to these community-based organizations. Interestingly, some were too scared to get the flu vaccine, so we talked to them about how to prevent the flu. In total, we immunized or educated 450 individuals about the flu.”

Many who attended the immunization program did not speak English, but received counseling through bilingual medical student volunteers and bilingual educational materials. Over the two-day event, more than 35 Pritzker medical students volunteered to help with interpretation, immunization and health counseling.

The event was coordinated by Kim, director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC) Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Disparities, in partnership with Ken Alexander, MD, chief of the Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases; community-based organizations; and the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Kim said she has worked with the Chicago’s Asian-American communities for more than 13 years and serves as president of the Asian Health Coalition, which has longstanding partnerships with these community-based organizations. “It’s this longstanding partnership and trust that allows us to work with these populations,” she said. Many of their constituents do not speak English, are newer immigrants and use the social services provided by these organizations to address their health and welfare, she said.

“The Chicago Department of Public Health offers free vaccines to many communities, but they can be difficult to access for people who speak limited English,” Kim said. “The goal of having an academic partner and students come out to the community is to understand barriers (especially language barriers) and to push for stronger policies that ensure equal access to health services. We also hope that many more Asian organizations will be able to successfully establish Asian-centered, federally qualified health centers to serve their communities and provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care.”

The vaccination drive was a collaborative effort that included:
  • UCCCC Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Disparities (the main organizer);
  • Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases;
  • Congressional Glaucoma Caucus Foundation, which provided screening supplies;
  • Chicago Department of Public Health, which donated flu vaccines;
  • Pediatric and Family Travel Clinic at the Medical Center;
  • Rush School of Nursing;
  • Pritzker School of Medicine;
  • National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award, which provided support for this program.