News release by Franciscan Health:
Victor Benavides, MD, has seen firsthand the benefits of respect for cultural diversity in healthcare.
“It’s important to have good communication with patients and to understand and respect their culture,” Dr. Benavides said. “When you have mutual respect with your patient, the outcomes are better.”
Dr. Benavides, a board-certified family medicine doctor, joined the Franciscan Physician Network at the LaPorte Health Center in La Porte in the fall of 2022.
A native of Lima, Peru, Dr. Benavides was curious about medicine at a young age.
“When I was little, my mother worked in a hospital as a receptionist and I was always there at the end of her shift when my father would come to pick her up,” Dr. Benavides said. “I was always curious about what was happening in the emergency room, why was an ambulance there, and I was always interested in what I could do to help.”
Dr. Benavides said medical school quickly became his goal.
“When you are little in South America, you have to strive to be a professional,” Dr. Benavides said. “If you don’t do that, it’s going to be very hard.”
Dr. Benavides went to the Mexican embassy and took the test for medical school. He was accepted and attended the Universidad de Montemorelos in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
“There were a lot of students from different countries, about 80 students, and it was all multicultural,” Dr. Benavides said. “It was wonderful. We all shared our own cultures and experiences.”
In order to earn a medical degree from the university, students were required to work in a rural Mexican community for one year. Dr. Benavides served an agricultural village in the mountains with no electricity. His clinic used a generator.
“They were farmers, working the land,” Dr. Benavides said. “They were very active, so there was no diabetes or hypertension. There were more problems with infections and things of that nature.”
After he graduated from medical school, Dr. Benavides returned to Peru, where he was a general practitioner in the jungle near the Amazon rainforest for nearly two years.
Just getting to his patients could be challenging.
“You could ride your motorcycle on a nice day, but if it rained, you had to walk, sometimes five or six hours or take a boat or a horse,” Dr. Benavides said.
Dr. Benavides visited the community once a week, generally for immunizations and family medical care. The location posed challenges beyond transportation.
“It was difficult for me because there were tropical diseases like yellow fever and malaria,” Dr. Benavides said.
Some of the patients Dr. Benavides cared for were members of Indigenous tribes.
“They have their own language, so I had a translator and tried to learn some basic language, kept a notebook,” Dr. Benavides said. “In their culture, for me to visit, I had to ask permission from the chief of the tribe. Once it was OK, I had to be sure that my work was approved by the chief and accepted by their culture as well.”
From there, he went back to his hometown of Lima, a city with nearly 10 million residents. Working in an urban setting had its own challenges as well, seeing a variety of patients with a variety of different ailments. He completed his residency in family medicine Peru before moving to the U.S.
Dr. Benavides said his experiences early in his career shaped how he treats all of his patients.
“Understanding a patient’s culture and beliefs is so important,” he said. “I apply that to everyone. I am the coach and the patient is the player. We are a team and we have to understand and respect each other.
Speaking fluent Spanish is comforting for his Spanish-speaking patients as well and helps with patient outcomes.
“They feel comfortable because I know their language and it creates a good relationship with them,” he said. “It’s easier for them to share their symptoms and I can help them more when they can share more.”
Dr. Benavides is accepting new patients at the LaPorte Health Center, 9001 I Street in La Porte. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (219) 575-6060.