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The Importance of Understanding Various Cultures as a Health Professional

Posted by PCC Institute for Health Professionals on December 15, 2021


Living in a diverse area like Portland, you're likely to encounter people from other countries than you. People who speak different languages and who have different norms for how they receive healthcare. 

It's valuable to interact effectively with others in a variety of contexts. Healthcare professionals need this ability even more than many others since their interactions can affect the long-term outcomes of patients.  

So, what is cultural awareness in healthcare, and how does it affect how well you perform your role in your health context? Let's dive into why it could be valuable to take a cultural competency for health professionals course at Portland Community College. 

What is Cultural Awareness in Healthcare? 

Cultural awareness in a healthcare context is all about recognizing that people care for themselves and heal themselves is often very culturally specific and grounded in norms and beliefs. By no means does that indicate abandoning a science-based approach that you learned in your healthcare training. Instead, it can cover a wide variety of methods to interact with patients or clients:  

  • Do patients prefer to have family members present to consult for a team-based approach to making health decisions, or are they more individualistic and likely to make their choices on their own? 
  • Do patients have specific preferences about contact or touch during a physical exam in a healthcare context? 
  • Are there beliefs about the origins of illnesses/conditions that could be causing a miscommunication about the patient's treatment or care? Are there beliefs about, for instance, the role of a particular kind of diet in healing an ailment that should be discussed and included in the treatment plan to have a truly holistic picture? 

Cultural awareness can include things like how healthcare is typically delivered in various locations, both inside the United States and around the world.  

For instance, if someone grew up in an underserved area, they may think that a particular ailment warrants a trip to the emergency room simply because there weren't enough alternatives, like primary care providers or urgent care, to make a different choice. Getting a medical history, in many cases, may also involve getting a record of how this person has interacted with healthcare systems to be able to communicate most effectively going forward. 

Improving Cultural Competence in Health Care: It Starts with Us 

Cultural competence is an ongoing approach to resolving a communication problem. With so much complexity in the modern health system, this can lead to expensive or time-consuming mistakes. It's better if everyone involved in a health context can notice whether a misunderstanding is taking place. 

A big reason why these sensitivities are needed is that patient education is such a crucial part of modern medicine. While you can perfectly perform surgery or pass the correctly filled prescription for medication across the counter, if your patient or client fundamentally misunderstands their role in caring for themselves afterward, your work is ineffective.  

Understanding different cultures' approaches to healthcare helps you understand what people seek from you. That enables you to create a comprehensive diagnosis and send the patient home with the correct details to make changes that improve their health over time. 

Taking a Course Is a Great Place to Start Asking Your Questions 

We're not trying to claim that you can summarize every culture effectively in a few hours of online coursework - that would be foolhardy. Instead, a course with Portland Community College in cultural competency gives you the tools to learn more from your patients about what they need directly and gives you the tools to do some of your research. If, for instance, you see a disproportionate number of people from a single geographical area or language group, you can use tools from the course to help you do deeper research on your own that is relevant to that particular group of people. Once you do your research, you can use it in combination with each patient's needs, remembering that there is variation in what elements of their cultural background are most prominent in any group. 

Taking a course is a way to further your understanding of how healthcare professionals are learning to reach their clients where they are. You are part of making our healthcare system more robust and more effective for more people. Get to know PCC's many courses that can help you in the workplace today. 

Topics: Healthcare, PCC

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