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The influence of culture on health care practices Essay

Current society demonstrates the need for appropriate health care practises that implement cultural sensitivity. This essay will discuss that in order for a nurse to develop therapeutic benefits for the patient it is essential for the nurse to display cultural sensitivity. It will firstly discuss the meanings of culture, cultural diversity and cultural sensitivity, followed on by the multiculturalism in Australia and the differences between western culture and Muslim culture and lastly what a nurse needs to practice in order to achieve cultural sensitivity.

In order to understand culturally sensitive nursing care it is valuable to first understand what culture and culture diversity means. In today’s society, culture is defined as a shared system of values, beliefs, ideas, rituals and learned patterns of behaviour and is not simply defined by ethnicity (Galanti, 2004). A person’s culture can be shaped by age, gender, religion, education and lifes experiences. Each individual is culturally unique and every aspect of a person’s life is influenced by their culture (Belancourt, Carrilli, Green, 1999 & White, 2004). Cultural diversity is the variety of human societies or cultures living and interacting together in a specific region (Belancourt et al. 2004). Therefore knowledge of cultural diversity is an important base in all levels of nursing care to in order to achieve cultural sensitivity.

Culturally sensitive nursing care recognises the need for respect and acknowledgement of the wholeness of all human beings, regardless of culture, religion or race. According to Seibert, Stridh-Igo & Zimmerman (2002, p 143) “Knowledge of the patients culture and awareness to its basic premises is imperative for quality treatment and recovery”. Indeed culturally sensitive nursing care is a required factor that must be practiced (Happell, Manias & Pinikahana, 2003). In today’s society the recognition of cultural differences and their impact on health care practices become more critical as the population of Australia continues to diversify.

As the Australian population becomes more diverse the need for delivery of culturally sensitive health care is becoming more paramount. Australian society now consists of people from more than one hundred countries, speaking one hundred and sixty languages (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001). People from non English speaking backgrounds make up fifteen percent of the Australian population (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001). Burke, Chenowethm and Jean (2006) believe at any one point there may be as many as twenty different cultural groups in one ward in hospital and some with no spoken English.

For a nurse to show cultural sensitivity to a non English speaking patient appropriate health care would be to communicate non-verbally and seek the help of an interpreter (Josipovic, 2000). The nurses’ responses to the multicultural patients, guide the level and progress of recovery (McFarland & Leininger, 2006). If non appropriate health care is practiced the patient would not receive the care he/she deserves. Evidently as Australian society becomes more multicultural the need for cultural awareness and sensitivity to health care practices is imperative.

As in other developed countries around the world, the primary responsibility of Australian nurses is to meet the health consumers nursing care needs while respecting and supporting their values (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2001). Health care practices such as nutrition, pain relief and diet are all believed and practiced differently by every culture (White, 2004). McFarland & Leininger (2006) believe that cultural health care practice must be acknowledged and respected since it is important to the patient.

A nurse will generally care for patients from different backgrounds and so their belief and value system will differ greatly from that of their own culture (Leininger, 1991). According to Andrews and Boyle (1997) problems will arise when a patient and a nurse from different cultural backgrounds with conflicting beliefs and values meet. This could pose a real challenge if the nurse has had little education on the patients’ culture. Certainly in these circumstances it is a nurses’ profession to put aside an ethnocentric view and display sensitivity to the patients’ perception on health care and illness (Josipovic, 2000). For instance caring for an Arab Muslim patient since the western awareness of this multifaceted culture is only just beginning.

Muslim religious and life values are markedly different from the values of life and health care practices in the western world (Luna, 2006). Islam is now the third largest religion in the world. In Australia alone between the years of 1996 and 2000 the population of Muslims has grown by forty percent (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2001). The religion of Islam (Muslims) believe in only one God (Allah), the creator and sustainer of all creatures and the universe, who prescribes the Muslim’s way of life (Luna, 2006).

Following Islam and obeying its teachings, is the most important thing in a Muslims life and requires adherence to mandatory practices that may not tolerate violations (Minority nurse, 2007). Observant Muslims believe that the best way to maintain their mental, physical and spiritual well-being is to adhere to the Islamic teachings and the rules of Allah through practice and moderation in all aspects of life (Minority nurse, 2007). Muslims consider their health a religious matter and they believe that good nutrition is one of the essential steps toward maintaining good health (Minority nurse, 2007).

Whilst maintaining good health for Muslims is important, health and food are considered acts of worship for which Allah must be thanked. For instance animals and poultry must be slaughtered by cutting the neck artery to cause instant death and decrease animal suffering (Muzzafar, 1997). The name of Allah must be mentioned during the slaughtering of the animal to bless it and make it lawful to eat (Luna, 2006). Therefore the way that food in a westernised hospital is prepared such as a roast beef or a ham sandwich would not be appropriate for a Muslim patient. To be a culturally sensitive health care provider requires that the health professional must not only be aware of patients’ religious dietary mandates but work very hard to accommodate them (Leininger, 1995).

Whilst keeping in mind dietary needs of a patient, additionally communication between nurse and patient is also a vast way of displaying cultural sensitivity. A Muslim mans refusal of pain medication after surgery in the western world may make no sense. In fact, if a nurse showed cultural sensitivity and asked the patient through appropriate verbal communication then she/he would discover that the Muslim cultural views on pain are very different from cultural ways of the western world. A Muslims belief is that by displaying illness is that one is purged of their sins through pain and illness (Luna, 2006). As evidenced in order to develop therapeutic benefits for the patient it is essential for the nurse to display cultural sensitivity.

To be a culturally sensitive a nurse, a nurse would need to be aware that Muslim patients’ health includes more than just physical and psychological dimensions. One example of traditional practice requires the visiting of the sick whether it is family, friends or neighbours. Islam teaches that visiting a sick person is an act of that obtains nearness to Allah (Muzaffar, 1997). Failing to visit at the time of illness is considered long term damaging (Luna, 2006). Luna (2006 p 329) believes that rather than label the Muslim family and visitors a problem because of the large number and constant visiting, an awareness and sensitivity to the cultural and religious obligation to visit the sick should be kept in mind by the nurse along with the inherent therapeutic benefits to the patient.

While displaying cultural sensitivity to patients is of the most importance there are many factors involved. Purnell (2004) believes that for a nurse to become culturally sensitive she/he first needs to understand her/his own culture, as well as the patients, be aware of different perspectives on wellness, illness and collaborate with nurses and other health care professionals. Conducting a health assessment on a patient and keeping in mind there culture is of great consequence (Seibert, Stridh-Igo, & Zimmerman 2002). For instance a nurse needs to show cultural sensitivity and only ask appropriate questions. The culturally sensitive nurse will realise that concern for many Muslim females is for modesty (Galanti, 2004). The covering of the body and the non attendance of the male health care provider is an important factor to be sensitive to.

In concluding, the importance of displaying culturally sensitive nursing is a significant element of nursing practice.This essay has discussed the importance of cultural sensitivity and how it affects health care practices, in particularly the roles it plays with Muslim patients. Evidently, treating illness and meeting the needs of the patient are difficult enough for the nurses in todays’ health care practices without adding the complication of religious and cultural differences. However if the nurses are appropriately educated and are willing to learn multicultural nursing it will develop mutually satisfying therapeutic benefits for the patient and nurse, with the ultimate goal of assisting in patient recovery.


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