The concept of cultural sensitivity is widely used in nursing and health care. Cultural sensitivity can be defined as awareness of cultural differences in values, beliefs, and norms and appreciation of these differences in health care practice. Although many developed and developing countries have already implemented this concept in their practices, many health care professionals still do not use culturally sensitive care. According to Claeys et al. (2021), many health care workers have a narrow understanding of cultural sensitivity, believing that it means caring for “the other” (p. 487). The other is often perceived as different, and a different culture is defined as “religion,” namely “Islamic religion” (Claeys et al., 2021, p. 487). However, cultural sensitivity is not only about religion. It is about all possible cultural differences, including ethnicity, race, age, gender, traditions, and beliefs of the representatives of different cultures. Furthermore, even if people live in the same country and have the same ethnicity, race, and gender, their culture and customs may differ significantly. For example, differences in child-rearing practices, role expectations, food, and health practices should also be considered in culturally sensitive care. Moreover, cultural sensitivity means acknowledging cultural differences without assigning them a positive or negative, right or wrong, or better or worse value.
Having defined the concept of cultural sensitivity, one can think about its use in practice. Thus, cultural sensitivity in health care is mostly associated with communication. If health care specialists do not know how to communicate with people of diverse cultural backgrounds, they will not be able to provide them with high-quality care (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 384). Culturally sensitive communication means that health practitioners understand and respect their patients and promote their and their families’ satisfaction (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 384). Clinicians should think critically and reflect on their personal values and beliefs while communicating with patients in order to achieve cultural sensitivity in their practice. However, research showed that health practitioners are ill-prepared to utilize culturally sensitive communication, and they have limited opportunities to educate on this subject (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 384). As a result, the absence of culturally sensitive communication leads to patients’ negative perspectives of care, miscommunication, cultural disparities, poor health outcomes, and adverse events (Brooks et al., 2019, p. 384). Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that cultural sensitivity should be applied to all patients in order to achieve the best health outcomes. Moreover, patients should determine culturally sensitive communication as the main recipients of care.
Suppose that a 64-year-old African-American woman, Megan Fox, came to a White-American physician because she did not feel well. Since she was new in the city, she asked her friend to recommend her to a doctor, and the friend advised her to go to Dr. Phillips. During her first visit, a 30-year-old Dr. Phillips calls Mrs. Fox ‘Megan’ and introduces himself as Dr. Phillips. After that, he assumes that she is on Medicaid – health coverage for low-income citizens. As a result, Mrs. Fox stands up and goes away, while Dr. Phillips does not understand her reaction.
The example mentioned above clearly demonstrates that Dr. Phillips was not culturally sensitive. In many cultures, it is widely accepted to call people by their last names, especially if they are older than their interlocutor. When Dr. Phillips called Mrs. Fox by her first name, she felt disrespect in his tone. Moreover, when he assumed that she was on Medicaid without asking her about her medical insurance, she was upset and did not want to tolerate such an attitude.
In the analyzed case, a culturally sensitive approach would be as follows. Dr. Phillips should have asked Mrs. Fox how she wanted to be addressed instead of calling her Megan. Moreover, he should have asked her if she had any medical insurance and then specified the type of insurance. In such a way, he could have avoided culturally sensitive issues and created a positive first impression.
Imagine that every person is an iceberg, and the main thing visible to others is the top of the iceberg, while the bottom is hidden under the water. The top can be identified with ethnicity, race, language, dress, and other visible things. However, the bottom, which is hidden from other people’s eyes, hides more important features: values, beliefs, ideals, roles, desires, tastes, attitudes, and others. Suppose health care practitioners think they can assess patients by the tops of the iceberg (appearance, language). In that case, they will never be able to provide culturally sensitive care because the bottom of the iceberg will be diverse. Some icebergs are small, others are hidden deep under the seas, and it may be complicated to move them forward. Similarly, when one person perceives the clinician’s treatment, jokes, and behaviors neutrally, other people may feel confused or offended. Therefore, cultural sensitivity can be seen as an effort to see beyond the tip of an iceberg and an attempt to understand what is hidden under the water but what makes the basis of a person’s culture.
Brooks, L. A., Manias, E., & Bloomer, M. J. (2019). Culturally sensitive communication in healthcare: A concept analysis. Collegian, 26(3), 383-391. Web.
Claeys, A., Berdai-Chaouni, S., Tricas-Sauras, S. & De Donder, L. (2021). Culturally sensitive care: Definitions, perceptions, and practices of health care professionals. Journal of Transcultural nursing, 32(5), 484-492. Web.