Culture can be likened to a luggage packed with customs, rituals, beliefs, and our ways of learning and knowing the world that we carry around for the rest of our life. These ways of knowing and thinking constitute layers of our being and can provide richness and meaning to our lives. On the other hand, packed in our cultural luggage are qualities such as assumptions we learned about other groups of people. One assumption I had for many years was that homosexuality was bad because homosexuals defied God’s directive to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth. Growing up in my neighborhood in Jamaica, homosexuality was oftentimes spoken of in a negative light. There were many indigenous songs that belittled homosexuals. Consequently, I had no liking for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTs) individuals.
As a practicing nurse, I realized that the conflict I felt towards LGBTs created a barrier to providing culturally competent care in a meaningful way suited to caring for this population of patients. It became critically important to me to examine my own values and beliefs, as well as myths, stereotypes, and stigmas regarding others before I could truly provide culturally sensitive nursing care to patients who were different from me. Reflecting on my own ethnicity, cultural influences, traditions, beliefs, and values lead me to a clearer understanding of what is an acceptable treatment of patients in my care. I came to more deeply appreciate that I must endeavor to provide nursing care in therapeutic and sensitive ways and to not assume that everyone experiences physical, emotional, and cultural events based on my understanding alone.
As such, my goal as a nurse became to respect the belief of each patient in my care and to be conscientious of their cultural background. I believe that every patient should be treated in a meaningful way which fits their general lifeways and in a manner that fulfills the needs of the group. Placing myself on the receiving end of being a patient, I can see how special I would feel if my human rights, beliefs, values, and practices were understood and respected by the nurse caring for me. Dr. Leininger, a nurse theorist, felt it was critical for nurses to be culturally competent providers as they are the ones who provide the most direct patient care. As such, nurses must understand how to work effectively within a diverse cultural atmosphere.
Reflecting on our cultural upbringing can help us to become aware of long-standing biases, misunderstandings, and assumptions which were indoctrinated in us while growing up. Additionally, reflecting on our cultural background allows for the opportunity to examine prejudices which may not be apparent to us on the surface level of our daily thinking. Reflecting through the lens of culture can help us to gain a better understanding of who we are and empower us to provide nursing care in therapeutic and sensitive ways. Denying that cultural beliefs and traditional practices impact our lives is to deny a part of who we are and what guides our choices in life. Not understanding this phenomenon in our patients is missing a vital part of caring that will be meaningful to them.
What conflict do you feel when caring for someone from a different culture?