Gaining Community Trust by Speaking Patients’ Languages

Pharmacist Faheem Rashidi administering a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at his pharmacy in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Faheem Rashidi, PharmD, is currently the owner of Lincoln Pharmacy in Lincoln, Nebraska. But in 2000, he had only just moved to Lincoln as a 16-year-old refugee from Afghanistan. At first, he lived in a church with his family. He did not speak any English. Rashidi persevered in learning the language and attended college and pharmacy school. He worked for a large national pharmacy chain for 16 years, where he felt he could not get to know the patients personally. “When I was working at one of the big chain pharmacies, I had some local customers ask us to deliver their medications. If the prescription was not ready by 1:00 PM that day, they had to wait until the next day,” said Rashidi. “So, sometimes I would personally deliver their medications after I closed the pharmacy at 10:00 PM, and they would share their stories with me.”

In 2019, Rashidi decided to immerse himself more in his community and opened his own pharmacy, where he welcomes everyone, especially the city’s Afghan population. Rashidi speaks five languages, offering access to patients with many backgrounds, particularly within underserved minority communities.

“When people see that you speak their language, they feel comfortable with you, they will tell you the exact reason on why they don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine or why they should have it,” said Rashidi.

Speaking multiple languages makes it easy for Rashidi to get to know his community members and to connect with them. “I give them my business card and tell them to call me if they have any questions. When they call, we make sure to provide them with accurate information, whether it’s about vaccines, medications, or anything health-related,” he said.

Rashidi relates with patients further by sharing his life story. “I tell them that I was born in Afghanistan, and [it] is still one of the countries in the world that has polio because people didn’t want to get vaccinated,” he said.

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In addition to counseling patients in the pharmacy about COVID-19, Rashidi has also volunteered in his community. At the Lincoln Islamic Foundation’s religious ceremonies, such as Friday afternoon prayers, 200 to 300 people were in attendance weekly before the COVID-19 Delta strain surge in cases hit in the area. People were feeling more comfortable, no longer being required to wear masks, and getting together in large gatherings. “That’s when we decided to jump in and make sure we tell the community that we are still not out of this yet; my interns and I had discussions with them about [social distancing] and the importance of getting the vaccine,” said Rashidi, noting that many community members don’t speak English and don’t have the skills to read or do their own research.

“Some of these people have never gotten vaccines because of religious beliefs, and not everyone believes the same thing, but many believe that it is not good to inject their body with a foreign substance,” Rashidi said. He reasons with people by saying that when they get sick they go to a physician to get medication, something that is taken into the body, so they feel better and are strong enough to go back to their mosque to continue their prayers. “We convince them that the vaccine is like a medication—a medication that prevents disease and allows them to safely go to their religious events again,” he said.

As a trusted pharmacist who looks like, speaks like, and understands the immigrants and their culture, Rashidi was able to convince many people to get vaccinated. To date, he estimates that he has given more than 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Learn more about how to Tailor Your Outreach and improve vaccine confidence.