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By Josette Kosch

Special to CSMS Magazine

Cultural diversity is one of the most researched areas in multicultural study, and just like in many other professional fields, cultural diversity has a tremendous impact on both healthcare in a broader term and in nursing in particular. Many experts agree that nursing, as a medical profession, has to have cross-cultural awareness as one of its curricula in staff or professional development. The more a nurse can relate to her patient cultural background, the more effective she can be in building trust—a quintessential factor in the healing process. Cultural diversity in general plays a major part in my life and also my entire family. I was born in an immigrant family where preserving the culture of the old country is a matter of great importance. So, growing up, I was able to be both American and Haitian.

According to Lowe and Archibald, nurses deliver their care within both social economic cultures as well as the health care culture. Culture focused assessments are essential. Mastery of cultural diversity in nursing will help. Assessing an emergency room visitor and asking if the patient had diabetes could result in the patient looking at the nurse as if she or he had two heads. A more experienced nurse came up from behind and asked the patient if he had sugar problem.

By simplifying the questions for the patient, it made it easier for him to respond. The patient said that he did. The nurse did not share the same cultural origin with the patient. However, her cross-cultural awareness and her experience as a skill nurse plaid well in helping the patient. So, cross-cultural awareness must be an integral part in staff development program in the nursing profession. It needs to be recognized to provide the best nursing care possible.

A nurse must be very sensitive to her patients’ cultural diversity. Cultural diversity can be related to age, education, gender, social-economic, sexual orientation and race. Lack of cross-cultural awareness could result to misinterpretation between a nurse—what she’s trying to explain—and her patient. Therefore, in order to understand how to help a patient better, a nurse needs to know the patient cultural background and try to be on the same level or in same page with the patient.

As a nurse working in a hospital setting, once trust with the patient has been established, the care you provide to the patient will be easy on you, and you will become an indispensable element for patients during the healing process. I believe nurses should take a practical approach to working with the culture of patients and families.

This approach has to be flexible to allow differences within cultures. I myself do not have any problem whatsoever with cultural diversity. As a professional social worker, I know how to approach people with different backgrounds and how to make others comfortable in their own pace. I know for fact cultural diversity plays a major role in a setting such as public places, especially hospital settings where patients have to make decision about their lives and about what they can or cannot do even though their lives are in the line.

Background of the patient is the most important part of the puzzle, especially when religion is involved. As a nurse this could be a dilemma, but at the same time you have to have a great respect and understanding for the patient’s cultural backgrounds and his or her belief. The cultural differences in nursing need to be recognized to provide the best nursing care possible. Even within a same culture, there may be vast differences—physical and emotional, which can cause serious and senseless mishaps if a nurse fail to understand these nuances.

Note: Josette Kosch is multicultural consultant. She lives in Dayton, Ohio. She wrote this piece for CSMS Magazine.

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