Nurses in the United States have a unique privilege in being the healthcare providers for one of the most diverse populations in the world. Our country is home to millions of people coming from various racial groups, religious affiliations, and sexual orientation. Promoting the well-being of these individuals require more than just a uniform set of standards. They require a dynamic nursing practice that emphasizes not just sensitivity, but more importantly, responsiveness to cultural differences.
Being educated and sensitive to differences among individuals is a crucial trait for any nurse. However, it is not enough to simply be aware of the nuances between one person and another. Nurses must take a step further and adapt their practice to these differences. Nurses are taught from their earliest days in nursing school to individualize their plan of care. This principle applies not just to how they tailor their approach to the physiological aspects of a patient’s condition, but other factors that affect their patients’ entire being, including their cultural background and preferences. Doing so creates a healthcare system that not only pays respect to the uniqueness of American society, but also helps foster a culture in which diversity becomes an inseparable part of our national identity. In other words, a culturally responsive healthcare system treats diversity as more than just novelty, but as something that our society simply cannot do without.
There are countless ways by which nurses can become advocates for a more culturally responsive healthcare system. Some actions can be done on a larger scale, while some can be done within the confines of one’s practice setting. Here are a few ideas:
1. Ask and listen.
Nurses have been educated to some degree on the differences between various cultural groups. This knowledge is indispensable, but certainly not comprehensive. There is simply no way to ascertain each patient’s cultural preferences without talking to individual patients. Some practice settings may allow more time to get to know patients and even their families, while other settings are fast paced. Nevertheless, assessing for cultural preferences should be codified into every nurse’s assessment in the same way that routine examination of the entire body is considered part of standard practice. Taking the time to ask and to listen to patients’ cultural preferences creates a positive experience for patients and their families at a time when they are vulnerable.
2. Be cognizant of workplace practices that are not culturally responsive.
In a typical work setting, it is not uncommon to have certain entrenched practices or policies that have become so prevalent no one seems to question or even notice them anymore. They are not necessarily wrong, but it may be worth revisiting how these actions may be affecting a unit, agency, or health care setting’s ability to respond to the culturally diverse needs of their population. Making the effort to look at one’s workplace from a fresh perspective may bring to light opportunities for improvement.
3. Get involved with committees or associations.
Larger healthcare institutions, like hospitals, have committees in which nurses can participate and help shape policies in their workplace. Smaller facilities may have a less formal structure but may have protocols in place for nurses to take on advocacy roles. On a broader scale, there are also various nursing organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, that provide avenues for nurses to make their voices heard in local, state, and federal governments. Regardless of how nurses choose to speak up, nurses can make a significant impact simply by choosing to be the voice for cultural responsiveness.
4. Run for office.
Nurses have been consistently named as one of the most trusted professions in the United States. At a time when political polarization and cynicism is so rampant, Americans may be willing to find common ground with leaders that have a track record of integrity and reliability. Nurses fit that bill and can most definitely leverage the public trust to create a more robust healthcare system that celebrates and protects the rights of various cultural groups on a much wider scale. Running for office may be an overwhelming endeavor, but it is certainly something nurses can do.
American society will continue to evolve in ways that will create a more diverse population. This is an inevitable fact, and many industries will need to adapt now. However, the healthcare sector is special in that it does not deal with commodities, but lives. Lives that are vulnerable. Lives that are unique and have specialized sets of needs. Nurses have always served as an integral part of the healthcare workforce, and they can and must continue to do so by taking the lead in create a more culturally responsive healthcare system.
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