It has been so nice working with a Muslim, female, hijabi obstetrician/gynecologist. After taking her lead, I now walk into the room and as soon as I see a hijabi or otherwise visibly Muslim, I get to greet them with “Assalamu alaikum,” peace be upon you, the universal greeting between Muslims all over the world. If you want to talk about building rapport with patients, if you want to talk about making the patient comfortable, nothing compares to the instant relationship-creator as those two words. It’s a way of introducing yourself as someone with a connection to this patient that is more substantial than the doctor/patient dynamic; first we are brother and sister joined by faith, common belief and principle, worshipping the same God in the same way. Then secondly, we are doctors/patients.
Making this bond even more meaningful is the fact that we are in Ramadan, fasting literally the longest days of the year, the patient probably going about their day having to interact mostly with people without this shared experience and expecting the same from this office visit until they see me, someone visibly Muslim and openly expressing it.
In the past I have been reluctant to say salam, instead just saying hello and going about business as usual, and I notice the huge difference in the patient’s reaction and in the interaction as a whole. I could see the smile drop as I assumed my businessy role, and I could just feel the whole interaction become less warm and more rigid and sterile. By doing that, I would shut down the opportunity to make the visit between two Muslims who could be themselves, instead pretending to be secular faithless medical student in our secular faithless medical system. I had thought this is what would be expected of me, keeping a safe distance from too much personal interaction with patients. In retrospect I have no idea where I got this from. Nobody had impressed upon me in particular that I wouldn’t be allowed to relate to patients based on our faith. I had just assumed that I had to do things the same way as everyone else in the class. Silly, I know.