Cross-Cultural Guide Helps Nurses Treat Diverse Patients

Imagine doing a health assessment with a patient who is in obvious discomfort and speaks minimal English. The patient may be asked to rate the pain on a scale of one to ten — but relating numbers to pain is a foreign concept for both of you.

Nurses across the country were coming up against such hurdles at work. They were struggling to communicate with their diverse patient populations because of language barriers and cultural differences.

Providence Health Care (PHC) in Vancouver did something about it. They created a new resource called “Huddle for Diversity.”

This tool is a roadmap for dealing with medical situations of a diverse patient population with unique needs. For example, issues such as meeting dietary requirements during fasting periods and views on organ donation in accordance with religious beliefs are addressed.

The book provides nurses with an invaluable resource that helps them understand patients with different beliefs and cultures, such as Indians who grew up practicing Ayurvedic medicine or Buddhists who prefer meditation over medication for pain relief.

The resource also focuses on raising cultural and religious awareness among PHC staff. Nurses are learning how to best involve patients in their healthcare decisions, a Western idea that both patients and Internationally Educated Nurses may not be accustomed to.

Ann Vanderbijl, head of the Diversity Services Department, meets regularly with staff on shift to stay tuned into their diversity related needs. Other tools the department has created include health-related pictograms and pain assessment tools. Nurses use the tools both at registration and to assist in bedside communication.

The creation of these learning resources allowed nurses and patients to talk about what healthy results look like from different perspectives. “These tools helped our staff overcome the moral distress of not understanding the patient,” says Vanderbijl.

The end goal at PHC is that nurses and patients alike overcome discomfort about cultural difference and bridge communication gaps throughout the healthcare field. The work PHC has done has been noticed. It has already initiated conversations about diversity and culture among healthcare providers, leading to better healthcare on the clinical level.

Tips for Employers

  • Use tools like pictograms to overcome staff-patient communication barriers.
  • Create a manual for addressing religious and cultural differences in the workplace.

Providence Health Care is one of the largest faith-based health care organizations in Canada. Located in Vancouver, they employ over 1,000 physicians and 6,000 staff. Guided by the principle “how you want to be treated,” Providence Health Care supports the creation of an inclusive environment for its staff and patients. Providence Health Care was selected as one of the Best Employers for New Canadians in 2008 and 2009, a designation that recognizes the nation’s top employers for recent immigrants.

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