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Cultural Differences in Health Care

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Cultural differences can impact a healthcare provider's approach to care. Read this lesson to learn about characteristics of different cultures that require special consideration from healthcare providers.

Exposure to Different Cultures

As an emergency department physician, Chen is exposed to people from all walks of life. Born into an Asian American family and adopted at a young age by parents of a Spanish descent, he enjoys learning about unfamiliar cultures.

Working the night shift, Chen has frequent opportunities to interact with the people of his community. Although tonight is fairly busy, he takes time to share his cultural knowledge with medical student Tom, pointing out key cultural characteristics and reactions to healthcare.

For Consideration

In his best effort to teach the medical student about cultural competence, or a foundation of understanding and respect for cultural differences, Chen hopes Tom will be more effective in his approach and communication with his patients. To foster a foundation of respect and understanding, Chen explains that there are common principles to consider that are unique to each culture:

  • Definition of health- what health means to a specific culture
  • Communication- how individuals communicate and expect to be communicated with
  • Family involvement- level of family and community involvement and participation
  • Religion- religious concerns may restrict certain treatments

Clinician Awareness Promotes Better Care

Utilizing the basic concepts taught over lunch break, Tom puts his new knowledge into practice for the remaining part of the shift.

Spanish Culture

Hispanic individuals may come from many countries with Spanish heritage, including areas of South and Central America, Spain, and several Caribbean islands. Tom, having minimal experience working with patients from a Hispanic background, learns a lot from shadowing Chen during the night.

The next patient the pair provides medical care for teaches Tom that people of Spanish heritage hold a deep respect for doctors and those in authority. They also tend to avoid conflict and difficult situations, and can be insistent on involving extended family in their care and decision making. Learning this information allows Tom to remain respectful when answering family members' questions after assessing the patient. Understanding that the patient finds it helpful to have large numbers of family members present during intimate aspects of care and discussions enables him to be more patient and easy-going as a provider.

Middle-Eastern Descent

The next patient on Chen and Tom's list is an elderly woman of Middle-Eastern descent. Although the patient relocated to the country over a decade ago, she does not speak much English, making direct communication between the patient and provider challenging. The patient's son is highly involved and demanding of the healthcare team.

Chen senses that Tom feels intimidated by the situation and reassures him of his ability to care for the patient. He encourages him to recall information in providing competent care to patients from the Middle East. Despite the potential for communication challenges, health is an important part of life. Family members can appear protective and even demanding when trying to acquire accurate and reliable information. Depending on the severity of illness or medical information being delivered, family members of a Middle-Eastern patient may be offended if not welcomed at the bedside during the medical discussion.

Asian Heritage

Chen and Tom have time to see one more patient before their shift is over. Their last patient is one of Asian heritage, seeking care for depression. Knowing that Asian culture may prevent some individuals from freely expressing their health concerns in an effort to appear socially good and healthy, health concerns may go untreated or undiagnosed for long periods of time so as to not bring shame to their families and neighbors. Chen explains that emotions are rarely shown, and that the husband or eldest son is the undisputed decision maker.

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