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Vulnerability in the clinic: case study of a transcultural consultation
  1. Melissa Dominicé Dao
  1. Correspondence to Dr Melissa Dominicé Dao Community Medicine, Primary Care and Emergency Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals, 4, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil, Geneva 14, Switzerland; melissa.dominice{at}


Discrimination and inequalities in healthcare can be experienced by many patients due to many characteristics ranging from the obviously visible to the more subtly noticeable, such as race and ethnicity, legal status, social class, linguistic fluency, health literacy, age, gender and weight. Discrimination can take a number of forms including overt racist statement, stereotyping or explicit and implicit attitudes and biases. This paper presents the case study of a complex transcultural clinical encounter between the mother of a young infant in a highly vulnerable social situation and a hospital healthcare team. In this clinical setting, both parties experienced difficulties, generating explicit and implicit negative attitudes that heightened into reciprocal mistrust, conflict and distress. The different factors influencing their conscious and unconscious biases will be analysed and discussed to offer understanding of the complicated nature of human interactions when faced with vulnerability in clinical practice. This case vignette also illustrates how, even in institutions with long-standing experience and many internal resources to address diversity and vulnerability, cultural competence remains a constant challenge.

  • Clinical Ethics
  • Cultural Pluralism
  • Minorities
  • Patient perspective
  • Decision-making

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