Healing over a culture gap in Park Ridge
Malgorzata Cieslak is Advocate Lutheran General Hospital's Polish Patient Navigator. | Courtesy Advocate Lutheran General
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:31AM
PARK RIDGE — Advocate Lutheran General Hospital recently hired social worker Malgorzata Cieslak as its Polish Patient Navigator to better meet the unique health needs of the Polish community.
Cieslak, of Oak Park, will educate hospital associates on the cultural sensitivities of Polish patients, in addition to offering guidance to women needing assistance after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer.
A survivor of cancer herself, Cieslak co-founded the Together-Cancer Survivors Network to provide support services for people affected by the disease in their native language.
“Most of us immigrants have no extended family here, and we have a very hard time sharing our medical problems with others for fear of being rejected,” she explained. “By sharing my own experience I can help women to find strength and willpower to fight the disease.”
Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in social work?
A: I always liked to help those who could not help themselves or who lived a troubled life. It’s very satisfying to see people change and start making better decisions. When my husband and I came to U.S. from Poland we met the most helpful, accommodating, generous, understanding and open-minded people in very small town in Minnesota. Since then I’ve promised myself that I’ll repay their goodness by always helping other Polish immigrants.
Q: How does culture affect healthcare?
A: Many immigrants who face health issues find themselves lost and confused when navigating through the American health system. Of course, I can only speak for the Polish community. Being unable to speak and understand English is the greatest barrier to health care for many Polish immigrants. Polish patients also need doctors who are familiar with their background, values and traditions.
Unconventional medicine is also seen to have an integral role in the health of Poland-born people. It is used alongside Western medicine often without informing medical practitioners. Some people will use homeopathic remedies in combination with changes in lifestyle and eating habits. Some herbal medicine and pharmaceuticals are sometimes privately imported from Poland. Word-of-mouth medication recommendations also carry a lot of weight with elderly Poland-born persons.
Q: What are some of the health needs you see in the Polish community?
A: I think the most important issue for the community is to raise awareness about the importance of preventive medicine. Too many Polish people do not see a doctor until they are really sick. There are many myths regarding different diseases and this is often the reason people do not seek screening procedures. Breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular problems are some of the most relevant health issues.
Q: How does being battling and beating breast cancer help you better counsel others?
A: I think anybody can support a person who is diagnosed with cancer. However, being a survivor myself I have a better understanding of the emotional needs of a patient and their loved ones. I am also a strong believer in regular screenings and early detection of breast cancer.