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One of the major lessons taught in public health training is the importance of having health care and public health professionals who can communicate and practice in a way that is sensitive to different perspectives, cultures or beliefs. This means that epidemiologists, dieticians, health services researchers, physicians and others should embrace diversity and differences (along a variety of dimensions, including race, age, gender, political identify, abilities and more) and show respect for people as they help them. Evidence shows that cultural competence or sensitivity or (just plain?) respect improves quality of care and health outcomes and reduces health disparities. (Cultural Competence Education for Students in Medicine and Public Health, 2012)

Novels can be a rich source of diverse perspectives and life experiences, even when these views are not the focus. Obviously, one person cannot understand everyone’s culture or background. One person can read stories that give some insight into the tragedies, triumphs and day-to-day activities that make up different lived experiences. Sometimes the freedom and creativity of fiction can help readers get past barriers of understanding and on to the similarities and differences among individuals, communities and societies.

So, the next time you are looking for a book or other piece of literature, try something with a voice very different from your own. Enjoy. Then, think about how your resulting insights might be a catalyst for improving your health or health care experiences as a health expert/professional or patient/consumer/community member.

Below are two novels with very different and real voices and perspectives.

Philipp Meyer’s American Rust (2009)

“Set in a beautiful but economically devastated Pennsylvania steel town, American Rust is a novel of the lost American dream and the desperation—as well as the acts of friendship, loyalty, and love—that arise from its loss. From local bars to trainyards to prison, it is the story of two young men, bound to the town by family, responsibility, inertia, and the beauty around them, who dream of a future beyond the factories and abandoned homes.” (Amazon.com review)

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street (1984)

“Esperanza Cordero, a girl coming of age in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, uses poems and stories to express thoughts and emotions about her oppressive environment.” (Amazom.com review)

What fictional novels are great literature AND views of life for different communities?

BTW, I found American Rust here: Nine Writers Carrying the Torch for Men’s Fiction and The House on Mango Street here: Literary Latino: Latino Fiction.
Image credits: All images are owned by the authors (and/or their associates).

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