The article I am reviewing is “A Doctor for Disease, a Shaman for the Soul.” This article describes the integration of traditional Hmong healing practices into the western medical system. The article specifically focuses on the Mercy Medical Center in Merced, CA. The medical center is located in an area with a large Hmong population and in the past clashing cultures has made providing adequate medical care very difficult (as demonstrated by Fadiman’s “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down”). Due to these difficulties, Mercy has made policy changes allowing traditional Hmong shamans to participate medical treatment.
The Shamans are allowed the same patient access and interaction that is allotted to other religious figures in hospitals. They consult patients and perform the rituals of their culture such as chants and “soul callings,” though often times the rituals must be modified in order to respect other patients. Also, practices involving animals, either as sacrifices, or as bodies to accept “spirits,” are not performed for sanitary reasons. Importantly, the Shamans are provided some education in western medical theory and practice so that they may aid in reducing resistance to even basic medical treatment such as blood transfusions. The Shamans can then convey this information to patients in a way that is more easily digested.
What I find particularly encouraging about this article is that it appears to be a nice blending of cultures that results in a more effective medical system overall. The Shamans perform their rituals which can have a strong effect (placebo, or otherwise depending on your beliefs), and they also facilitate a more trusting relationship between Hmong patients and doctors. Though the Hmong system is based in spirituality and the western system is biologically based, this is an example of the two working together synergistically to benefit the patient. The idea of integrating the culture of the people near the hospital seems to be a relatively simple way of providing a more pleasant and effective medical system.