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Timothy Barreiro, D.O. (’97)

Understanding cultural differences

Alumnus speaks on minority health disparities for Hispanic Heritage Month

By Richard Heck

Oct. 20, 2008

For a physician, cultural understanding is just as important as clinical knowledge, OU-COM students were told Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Timothy Barreiro, D.O. (’97), FCCP, FACOI, offered this advice during a noon lecture to culminate Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), “Ethics disparity: A call to consciousness.”

According to Barreiro, the primary problem with minority health care is cultural misunderstanding. Barreiro noted that 14 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, while Asian, African and Native Americans make up another 17 percent. Still, only six percent of physicians can be
counted among those minority groups, he said.

Health care disparities among minority populations stem from many causes, from socio-economic to cultural differences, Barreiro said. For example, minority populations have higher mortality rates in part
because they are more likely to be uninsured and less likely to have a regular primary care provider.  

“Poverty certainly plays a role,” he said, noting that higher percentages
of African Americans and Hispanics live below the federal poverty level of $20,000 for a family of four.  

Given OU-COM’s relatively high minority student enrollment, Barreiro suggested that students use one another as resources to learn about cultural differences. “There is no reason why you don’t get together and understand where you come from,” he said.

Barreiro emphasized avoiding stereotypes and assumptions when treating patients of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. “We think we are doing a better job than we are,” he said, calling on the students to become “strong academic leaders and mentors.”

Barreiro also encouraged students to get involved with minority health research and help shed light on health disparities among certain populations. For example, he said, Mexican Americans born in the United States experience higher rates of lung disorders—asthma, chronic bronchitis and sinusitis—compared to Mexican-Americans born in Mexico, but the medical community has not yet identified the cause.

“We need to build an educated, caring health professional,” Barreiro said. “We want you to be a compassionate physician who understands and respects cultural differences.” 

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Last updated: 01/28/2016