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Culturally competent care for the Filipino community

By The Health News Team | October 24, 2023
Happy family sitting outside in the park

Diversity is a hallmark of “America’s Finest City.” We embrace, enjoy and learn from the different cultures, languages and lifestyles of our friends and neighbors.

Dr. Joseph Novencido, a Sharp Community Medical Group family medicine doctor who is affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, was born and raised in Bonita and Chula Vista, where he was brought up in a proud Filipino community. After finishing medical school in Chicago and his medical residency in Northern California, he made the decision to return to San Diego to serve his hometown.

In his South Bay office, Dr. Novencido cares for people of many cultures, including Mexican, African, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Samoan people. He credits his firsthand understanding — particularly of the unique attributes of the Filipino community — with his ability to tailor the care he provides to patients.

A unique understanding of the Filipino community

According to the U.S. Department of State, there are more than 115 million Filipino people across the world, with nearly four million residing in the United States. San Diego has a thriving Filipino community with a unique upbringing and diet as well as distinctive values and psychosocial pressures that often factor into a patient’s health care needs.

“Respecting strong Filipino familial relationships is key,” Dr. Novencido says. “We recognize how important it is to include their support systems, and we often schedule Filipino patients with their spouse or children. These close relationships are valuable because they can offer important insight and input for the patient’s care.”

Family history can affect a person’s health

Like other cultures, there are specific diseases that show up more often among Filipino people. Heart disease and diabetes are common diagnoses, especially among Filipino men. Genetics, psychosocial circumstances and diet are major contributing factors. Traditional Filipino diets tend to have high salt, carbohydrates and fat content, which are risk factors for these conditions.

“These diets are ingrained since youth, and breaking them is a huge undertaking,” Dr. Novencido says. “I educate my patients and their families about these conditions and their consequences, and offer practical ideas for gradual, realistic, sustainable change over time.”

Additionally, Filipino men, Dr. Novencido says, can be more concerned with taking an antihypertensive medication than the disease itself. This requires a different counseling approach altogether.

Among Filipino women, breast cancer is the leading cause of death. Dr. Novencido says he works to earn his female patients’ trust by relating to them and using motivational interviewing.

“Helping them overcome fears about mammogram screening, or whatever the barrier might be, is a key element of the care I provide to Filipino women,” Dr. Novencido says. “Preventative medicine through lifestyle choices is very important to living a healthy and enjoyable life.”

Living his mission to improve a community’s health

Additionally, Dr. Novencido does his best to practice what he preaches. Like many San Diegans, he has a busy work and family schedule. But Dr. Novencido makes time to run several times a week and to meditate.

“As a Filipino raised in the United States, I recognize the great opportunities, resources and privileges I have as an American citizen,” Dr. Novencido says.

It is this recognition that inspires him to give back. Giving back to his culture, he says, is important to him. He is an active member and president-elect of the Philippine Medical Association of San Diego, a local nonprofit group working on projects to support the Filipino community here and in the Philippines.

“Every patient deserves a pathway to good health,” Dr. Novencido says. “My mission is to provide them not only with the care they need but also the steps to a healthy life.”

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