Rehabilitating from major surgery is challenging in itself. Now imagine the same process, but in an unfamiliar cultural setting with unfamiliar foods and experiences.

This can be frustrating, to say the least. Augustana Health Care Center of Minneapolis is exploring the idea of developing a culturally specific rehab environment for East Africans, an ethnic group that includes immigrants from Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia — the latter of which is the country of origin for more than 77,000 Minnesotans. A majority of Somalians practice Islam, which differs from other faiths in terms of daily worship and diet.

As the concept of a specialized section for East Africans is being weighed by Augustana Care, much of the required research will be conducted by students from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and its Schools of Graduate and Professional Programs.

“People who know your cultural, spiritual and dietary needs can help you feel at home and, more importantly, create a stronger healing environment,” said Laurel Anderson, program director for the Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration program at Saint Mary’s. “As service is a major part of the mission of Saint Mary’s University, we’re very pleased with the partnership with Augustana Care. It gives our students real-life experience working with a prominent and growing culture within our state.”

During the summer months, Saint Mary’s graduate students will research demographics, cultural barriers, fund development and demand analysis. Work has already begun, and in August the students will make their final recommendations to Augustana Care.

April Xiong, one of the students from Saint Mary’s who is working on the project, said the work reminds her of an experience she herself had in a Honduran medical clinic. “This project is similar because I am working with a different culture and language,” she said. “Because I am Hmong, I also come from a culture where family is very important. So I relate very strongly to this work.”

For more information on the Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration, click here.

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