Respecting and honoring cultural issues and differences among patients in hospitals are paramount duty of today’s health care provider. It may be one of the finer points of being a nurse, but ultimately it is no less important than doing rounds or assisting in surgery. In today’s diverse society, cultural competence is foundational to being an effective and successful nurse.
Cultural competence involves having sensitivity to the values and beliefs of each cultural group encountered in the course of one’s job. “Culture” can be defined as the language, behavior, customs, values and beliefs that a particular culture, race or country holds. It encompasses the things that differentiate people from culture to culture, and there can be both similarities and vast differences.
Managing Cultural Diversity in Healthcare
One of the foundational elements to being a successful healthcare provider is instilling trust in the patient. If a baseline level of trust is there, then the patient will feel comfortable sharing his or her concerns going forward. Healing happens more rapidly in an atmosphere of trust. Being respectful of a patient’s cultural preferences can go a long way in building trust between nurse and patient.
These days, it’s not uncommon for people from Muslim countries, Asian countries, African descent, Latino regions, etc., to all be living in one neighborhood and using the same hospital. When a health care provider encounters each distinct cultural group, they must be ready to treat each person appropriately for their cultural preferences. A basic knowledge about each group utilizing the hospital is foundational to managing cultural diversity and enacting treatment protocols that satisfy the needs of each patient.
Some Example Cultural Issues
The Islamic culture has specific norms and preferences practiced by its members. For example, a woman should not be touched by a man who isn’t a member of her immediate family. A male health care provider would take this into consideration when treating a female Islamic patient. This culture is truly patriarchal, and most major decisions tend to be made by the males of the family. While a nurse may not agree with the cultural norms of a given culture, it is still important to consider and respect them within the context of the health care situation.
Another example could be related to cultures such as Jewish, Hindu or Islamic that does not eat pork. Since there are a number of medicines such as insulin that contain pork-based ingredients, there could be problems — even legal issues — if a health care practitioner prescribes and/or administers such medicines to people of these cultures.
Chinese culture has its own set of norms as well. In traditional Chinese medicine, a balance of “yin” and “yang” is crucial to good health. Yin refers to all things passive and cool, while yang refers to action and heat. Some Chinese patients may take it upon themselves to adjust medication levels as they perceive to be correct for their own yin and yang balance, overlooking the fact that a full dosage is needed for it to be effective. A health care provider should watch for signs that a Chinese patient is making such adjustments to their medications and tactfully advise against doing so while explaining the necessity of the full dosage for optimal benefit.
Cultural Sensitivity Promotes Harmony and Healing
Ultimately, cultural competence facilitates a more efficient and effective healing process. As the above examples show, cultural norms can be diverse and extremely specific within each culture. It may take some time and effort for a health care practitioner to become versed and familiar with the nuances and cultural issues within the different nationalities they encounter, but it is worth the time spent. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, health care providers can work with their patients to create effective solutions that satisfy everyone involved.
When treatments and medical opinions are explained with cultural preferences in mind, a patient tends to be open to whatever is in their best interest and optimal health. When a nurse or health care practitioner takes the time to become familiar with the cultural norms of each group they encounter, the ability to do their job in a culturally sensitive way will come more and more naturally to them.