Student addresses communication gaps and cultural disconnects in health care

Student Oleg Teleton

Editor's note: This story was first published in fall 2011. As of June 2012, Teleten is an inaugural graduate of the School of Nursing.

Oleg Teleten, a registered nurse and a master’s degree student at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, hopes to improve health-care by breaking down communication barriers between people and health-care providers.

“Everything in health care is a global issue – better care for one individual can mean better care for everyone,” Teleten said.

Studies show good communication between health-care professionals and consumers can be the difference between life and death, and yet there are many factors that may lead to a breakdown. Since health-care practices vary between countries, individuals or their families may respond in different ways even if they have lived in the United States for a long time.

Born in the Ukraine, Teleten said some people from the Ukraine are unable to accurately report their prescribed medications, even if they have lived in America for a long time. Health professionals in the Ukraine are commonly feared, he said, and a person may lie to avoid being punished. There is also a strong tendency to not take medications for chronic illness in the Ukraine. Because of such cultural nuances, some people raised in the Ukraine are more likely to say they are taking medications when they are not. Teleten describes one patient who was prescribed five different blood pressure medications and yet continued to be hypertensive. Because of his cultural understanding, Teleten said he was able to coach the patient to take a proper dose.

“When nurses are from the same linguistic and cultural background as the people they serve, individuals are typically more comfortable discussing their health practices, health beliefs, folk medicine usage and feelings about their plan of care,” Teleten said. “Nurses take better medication histories when people feel more comfortable.”

Teleten hopes to conduct research that can define differences in care based on whether the health care team works with an interpreter, or if the team includes a bilingual, bicultural nurse. Data regarding these differences could lead to new processes that enable health professionals to better communicate with people from different cultures.

“Because Sacramento is one of the most diverse cities in the country, it’s like a laboratory for the world. We need to understand the nuances of health care in different cultures and study different cultures so that we can provide better care,” Teleten said.

The Transcultural, Linguistic Care Team was created to manage an increasing number of Russian, Hmong- and Spanish-speaking people admitted at UC Davis Medical Center. Teleten and other team members published an article on their work in the “Journal of Nursing Administration” in June 2010. “Improving Nurse-Patient Communication and Quality Care” is based on observations and notes further research is necessary to establish communications guidelines. As a student at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, Teleten hopes to conduct studies that will provide data to support this work.

“I believe the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing will change the culture of health care because real change happens through education,” Teleten said. “By educating nurses and physicians together, the culture of health care will change.”

Teleten is a 2011-12 recipient of the Pat and Charles Fullerton Pain Medicine Nursing Scholarship, which helps support his education at the school.