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Doctors Making a Difference

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Dr. Kirstin Grahn has only practiced in Omaha for nine months, but already this pediatrician has made an impact on the community’s Latino population. Grahn is part of Children’s Physicians group and practices at the Spring Valley Office on 50th and F Streets. She completed her medical training in Arizona and split time working in Nogales, AZ and bordering Nogales, Mexico for four years prior to relocating to the Midwest where her husband grew up.


With a father in the military, traveling and moving was second nature. She spent her summers in college conducting microbiology research in Peru, and during medical school she served numerous rotations on the Apache Indian reservation. Here, she met a colleague who sparked interest in mission work in the Dominican Republic. Working with a largely Spanish-speaking population in Arizona and now South Omaha seemed a natural progression.

“I was really actually relieved to find that there is a need here” for doctors fluent in Spanish and well-versed in the Latino culture, says Grahn.

Grahn believes that her practice demands both evidence-based medicine and culturally sensitive medicine. She explains: “evidence-based medicine is practicing medicine in a way that is backed by science. But medicine is an art, too. And so there is not just one right way of doing something in medicine with certain options having better scientific backing or more data, or they having been proven to be more effective.”


“You have to take that science which we all have,” she continues, “but the real skill comes in when interacting with families, knowing where they come from or why, for example, they don’t comply with the treatments we recommend. Maybe grandma is saying we don’t need that because we can take this herbal tea. You have to adjust.”

Family is a strong force within the Latino culture. Disregard its influence, and you undermine your attempts at treating Spanish-speaking patients. Gain parents’ and grandparents’ trust, and you effectively increase the likelihood that your patients will follow your instructions. And you gain their trust by knowing and working with the cultural differences.

For instance, when a baby is suffering from stomach upset, Latino mothers and grandmothers will often administer chamomile tea, or te de manzanilla. As a doctor, Grahn may have suggested a more conventional, less homeopathic, course of action. But her awareness of the cultural ties to the tea coupled with her knowledge of its efficacy supports the choice. “We know it’s not harmful, and it opens doors. You and the grandma immediately connect. They know I am open-minded to that and knowledgeable of that belief system. They become more honest with me about other concerns that they might be embarrassed to bring up with a provider who maybe didn’t seem to be as accepting,” Grahn states.

“I realized early on that I have a passion for helping people who are underserved, and children in my mind are sometimes innately at the bottom of the totem pole. We have to think outside of what is in our backyard. We live in a big world, and our experiences are only a small part of that much larger community.”


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