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Identifying & Overcoming Diversity Challenges in Healthcare Delivery

Hospitals in North America are serving an increasingly diverse patient population. This requires healthcare providers to be not only medically competent but culturally competent, too. Identifying and responding to diversity challenges while delivering patient care requires compelling diversity training for healthcare employees.

In order to provide optimal care, it is essential to understand that not all cultures share the same beliefs regarding health and illness, nor do they agree on what is an appropriate treatment for a disease, or what is proper behavior when ill. These differences can, at best, cause a great deal of frustration on the part of the provider, and at worst, result in inferior care. To prevent this, diversity skills training will prepare employees to handle the various challenges that present themselves daily in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

For example, not knowing that coin rubbing is a traditional Asian healing remedy can cause a healthcare provider to be distracted by the welts on a patient, ignoring the true source of the illness, particularly if the patient does not speak English. Some patients may refuse medical treatment, believing that God will heal them. Muslims may refuse to plan for death, believing that to do so would challenge the will of Allah. Sikhs may not allow a nurse to prep them for surgery, since their religion forbids the cutting or shaving of any bodily hair. While it’s impossible to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every cultural or religious belief or tendency, we can learn something about the most common patterns of the populations we commonly serve, while keeping in mind that there is tremendous variation within each group, and among individuals.

Effective diversity training will introduce healthcare employees to the two keys to achieving cultural competence in healthcare delivery: attitude and knowledge. First, medical professionals must learn to approach a diverse patient population with the proper attitude: understand that different people’s ways of doing things may be different, but equally valid. Anthropologists term this attitude cultural relativism and contrast it with ethnocentrism – the belief that your culture’s way of doing things is the only right and natural way, and that all other ways are inferior. The healthcare practitioner who tries to understand the beliefs and values of his or her patients will be much more effective than one who merely sees them as strange.

Having varied knowledge about different cultures’ beliefs, values, and traditions is also important. The best sources of knowledge, however, are your patients and co-workers. Most people are happy to share information about their culture with people who genuinely want to learn. So don’t be afraid to ask people about their culture, and share with them information about your own.

Patient Diversity is an engaging diversity skills training video created to help medical practitioners develop the awareness and skill to treat patients with different cultural, religious, and language backgrounds.

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