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Bridging Language & Cultural Barriers
By: Elise Kalfayan

Wheeled in to a Glendale hospital’s emergency room, the elderly woman crying hysterically could not tell ER staff trying to communicate with her in English or Spanish what was wrong. Greg Krikorian’s mother happened to be in the same ER with one of her children. She went to see if she could help, and noticed the woman’s name ending in “ian”.  Most in the region know that this is an Armenian surname.  Immediately Greg’s mom started to speak in Armenian and translated for staff and the patient.  The woman quickly calmed down. 

After this experience, the Krikorians realized that the community, and especially the local health care sector, needed to develop ways to communicate with the new immigrant community in their language.

“We saw the need, and we met it with an Armenian-language talk show that has aired continuously since January 2003,” said producer Greg Krikorian. The title Medical Mondays came to him when he selected a Monday evening timeslot and contracted with the local Armenian Media Group TV station. Krikorian Marketing Group, which contracts with Glendale Adventist Medical Center for this program and other initiatives, is a marketing and consulting agency specializing in Armenian, Arabic, Persian, and Russian communities living in California. Their research found that they best way to reach this targeted audience was via Armenian Language Television offered by Charter Communications.

Armenian immigrants in the Glendale/Burbank area struggling with language barriers have learned a great deal about health care, medical research and treatments by watching Medical Mondays, hosted by Dr. Narine Arutyounian.  The success is proven by the overwhelming number of calls to the call-in line, 818-547-3668.  Medical Monday’s airs each Monday, 6–6:30 PM on Channel 380, Armenian Media Group.

Arutyounian graduated from Yerevan State Medical Institute in the top 5 percent of her class, began residency training in Armenia but brought her family to the U.S. when her husband required a kidney transplant. She completed residency work at USC, and later opened practices in Glendale and Burbank.

Her drive was apparent to GAMC, where she serves on its Family Medicine Board. Arutyounian remembers, “Glendale Adventist approached me about the TV program, which was very shocking for me. I’ve been trained to be a physician not a TV show host. But they trained me, and I started to host the show.”  Krikorian Marketing Group was on contract as consultants to reach out to the Armenian community, so it was a natural for them to take on management and coordination of Medical Mondays.
Featuring a call-in format, Arutyounian and her guests answer viewer questions during the live broadcast. “This is the only show in the community with only board certified physicians as guests,” she says. “The information we provide to the community is all evidence-based medicine, nothing else! I try to feature the latest information based on research.”
Arutyounian translates everything if guests don’t speak Armenian.  “I make an effort to have not just Armenian doctors on the show, so viewers will know they are getting information from all the best specialists in the area.”

Most guests are affiliated with GAMC, but Arutyounian collects references widely. “I try to find out what patients want to hear. I ask my patients, I ask in the hospital, I talk to community physicians, and when I read about something new in the medical field, I follow up as well.”

Armond Kotikian, D.D.S., M.D., Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon, clearly enjoyed his recent guest appearance on the show. “Dr. Arutyounian is a seasoned interviewer. Her easy-going personality, medical knowledge and ability to translate jargon to layman’s terms made participating in the show fun and stress-free. Taking caller questions was interesting: you never know what to expect and it gives you an idea as to what interests the general public.”

Dr. Kotikian added, “In our current health care environment, it is often difficult for people to have access to a medical professional in such a personal way. Dr. Arutyounian’s show has been on air for many years and the Armenian community relies on her as a reliable and accurate medical resource.”

Morre Dean, CEO of Glendale Adventist, is proud of the program. “Dr. Arutyounian’s commitment to health is highly evident in her care for patients and through hosting the weekly Medical Mondays program. I am amazed by her ability to successfully balance her busy professional practice while also contributing to improving the health of her viewers.”

The community response is encouraging. “I see the results,” says Arutyounian, “We get huge feedback, and we’ve seen the community grow a lot. My biggest satisfaction is seeing positive changes and hearing more mature questions. I’m there only for one reason: to talk about the right things, to talk about concerns they may have.”

“Dr. Arutyounian continues to exceed our expectations, and she always brings out the best from her guests,” said Krikorian. “Our audience continues to grow as Medical Mondays offers viewers sensitive health care advice in the comfort of their homes, and opportunities to call and ask questions. GAMC is committed to educating and reaching out to its diverse community, and we are grateful for GAMC sponsorship as the key supporter of Medical Mondays.”