Marshall U. Students Learn About Stigmas - Diverse Health

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Marshall U. Students Learn About Stigmas

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by Taylor Stuck, Associated Press

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A diagnosis of HIV/AIDS comes with new medications (hopefully) and a change of lifestyle, but it also comes with a new stigma attached to a person.

“As a physician, you really see the clinical aspect of treating a patient,” said Abbie Short, third-year Marshall University Honors College student. “You just see them as what is biologically affecting them, but you don’t see how that might affect their day-to-day life. You are treating the whole person, not just the one aspect.”

Short and her classmates in Maggie Stone’s honor’s seminar “The Stigma of Disease” had a Stigma Fair in the basement of the Memorial Student Center to illustrate the stigmas associated with different diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and mental illness.

The idea for the class, Stone said, was to give future practitioners, from nurses to therapists to doctors, a new perspective on how their future patients will experience different stigmas.

“The goal is as they go out into the field — and they are practicing whatever discipline they are and they are working with people that have stigmatizing conditions — that they are aware and find better ways to treat people so they don’t feel ‘othered’ or shamed,” Stone said.

Short and her partner Holly Farkosh chose inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, to present during the fair. They turned the stomach and intestines into a life-size Candyland-type board game. As fairgoers moved through the GI-tract, they would receive symptoms of the diseases.

Farkosh said many of the stigmas associated with inflammatory bowel diseases are because they are bathroom related.

“One of the articles we read talked about the ‘water closet’ and how it acts as a protector from it, because they have to hide from it because people aren’t used to talking about bathroom topics,” Farkosh said.
Both students plan to be doctors.

IMPROVING BEDSIDE MANNERS

“This class, for both of us, exposed us to both to our own stigmas we didn’t realize we had and really helped us to be aware of stigmas other people have,” Farkosh said.

She said it also adds to their bedside manner, which really isn’t taught in medical school.

Another group focused on the stigma of HIV/AIDS. To visualize the struggles even everyday tasks can pose, the group set up an obstacle course. One person would have no barriers, free to finish the course at will. The second person had to carry a basket with a soup can, which represented the extra weight of the disease. That person had access to medicine, and had to make extra stops to take medicine.

The third person did not have access to medicine. The person carried two baskets with soup cans and was delayed 15 seconds after each task.

“There’s a big phobia that if you share something with someone with HIV that you will get it,” said Chefali Khanna, junior honors student. “People are cautious to not share things with their friends, or if they are at a friend’s house and they put down a cup they won’t touch it. Little things like that.”

Khanna, who also wants to be a doctor, said the class has been eye opening.

Stone said the best way to combat stigma is to be informed and aware.

“We are all cognitive misers, right?” Stone said. “We tend to treat people in snap judgment way. If we can think before we speak and before we act, and that comes from an informed place, we respect people’s dignity and humanity a bit better.”

Students in the Honor’s College are required to take two honors seminar courses to graduate from the college.

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