International Medical Graduate-Patient Communication: A Qualitative Analysis of Perceived Barriers

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Purpose: International medical graduates (IMGs) represent a substantial portion of all medical residents in the United States. Yet, IMGs may be disadvantaged in their communications with U.S. patients for a variety of reasons. The authors conducted a qualitative study to examine IMGs' perceptions of the barriers to their communication with patients. Method: A convenience sample of 12 IMGs participated in interviews that lasted 1 to 1.5 hours. Residents from the Caribbean, Colombia, Denmark, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Peru participated in individual interviews conducted on-site at one of three clinics. Interviews were transcribed and then coded independently and jointly. The authors used a qualitative analysis of interview transcripts to identify primary and secondary themes. Results: IMGs' perceptions of the barriers to communication with their Appalachian patients fit into two broad themes: educational barriers and interpersonal barriers. Within each of these themes, the authors identified secondary themes: education-related barriers were science immersion and lack of communication training, and interpersonally related barriers were unfamiliar dialects, new power dynamics, and different rapport-building expectations. Conclusions: The analysis of the interview data yielded several important findings that residency programs should consider when designing orientations, training curricula, and communication interventions. Programs may need to address challenges related to regional dialect and "informal" English use, as well as communication barriers associated with cross-cultural differences in norms, values, and beliefs. Programs also need to draw on multilayered interventions to address the multidimensional challenges of cross-cultural physician-patient communication.