By Christina Orlovsky, senior writer, and Karen Siroky, RN,
As the nation’s population becomes more diverse, so do the
needs of the patient population that enters U.S. hospitals. As caregivers with
direct contact with patients from a wide spectrum of races, ethnicities and
religions, nurses need to be aware and respectful of the varying needs and
beliefs of all of their patients.
In its position statement on cultural diversity in nursing
practice, the American Nurses Association (ANA) states that: “Knowledge of
cultural diversity is vital at all levels of nursing practice…nurses need to
understand: how cultural groups understand life processes; how cultural groups
define health and illness; what cultural groups do to maintain wellness; what
cultural groups believe to be the causes of illness; how healers cure and care
for members of cultural groups; and how the cultural background of the nurse
influences the way in which care is delivered.”
Additionally, the Joint Commission requires that all patients
have the right to care that is sensitive to, respectful of and responsive to
their cultural and religious/spiritual beliefs and values. Assessment of
patients includes cultural and religious practices in order to provide
appropriate care to meet their special needs and to assist in determining their
response to illness, treatment and participation in their health care.
There are a number of ways to comply with the requirements for
providing culturally diverse care.
First, be self-aware; know how your views and behavior is
affected by culture. Appreciate the dynamics of cultural differences to
anticipate and respond to miscommunications. Seek understanding of your patients
cultural and religious beliefs and values systems. Determine their degree of
compliance with their religion/culture, and do not assume.
Furthermore, respond to patients’ special needs, which may
include food preferences, visitors, gender of health care workers, medical care
preferences, rituals, gender roles, eye contact and communication style,
authority and decision making, alternative therapies, prayer practices and
beliefs about organ or tissue donation.
Kathleen Hanson, Ph.D., MN, associate professor and interim
executive associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Iowa,
summarized the importance of learning cultural diversity in nursing education.
“Cultural competency is threaded throughout the nursing school
curriculum. We teach every course with the idea that there’s content that may
need to be explained for a diverse student group,” Hanson said. “In nursing,
cultural competency has been around for a long time. I think that’s probably
something that the nursing profession recognized maybe a bit before some other
disciplines. We’ve always worked in public health, so we have always seen the
diversity of America.”
Hanson concluded: “We need to be able to care for diverse
populations because our country is growing increasingly diverse. Oftentimes
persons who are in minority groups or who are underrepresented have different
health care needs. It’s important for us to have a student population that is as
equally diverse as our client; we need to prepare a workforce that not only
knows how to work with diverse peoples, but also represents them.”
© 2007. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.