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Diversity training molds culturally competent nurses

Published: Saturday, April 4, 2009

Updated: Sunday, April 5, 2009 17:04

nursing students

Melanie Thomas

nursing students 2

Melanie Thomas

By the year 2042, Americans now classified as the minority are projected to become the majority, as the population growth of Hispanics, African Americans, and other ethnic backgrounds is likely to outpace that of white Americans.

To better serve this change in population, many fields are trying to adapt their practices to meet the needs of the people. The nursing field in particular is beginning to make cultural learning and diversity awareness an integral part of job training.

"It's about helping the students learn to care for the different cultures. If they have different family values, things like that, that would impact the care the nurse needs to provide," said Lori Drozdis, the director of the nursing department at Wilkes. "So by learning these different things, we're making a better nurse for the future."

Recognizing the importance of training nurses in this regard, the nursing department decided to make cultural awareness and diversity training the focal point of its Educational and Professional Development Fair. The fair, which will be held at the Marts Center on April 16, will emphasize the importance of providing quality care to culturally diverse communities.

Sophomore through senior nursing students will present posters they created that deal with aspects of diversity. Topics include cultural beliefs and practices related to aging, beliefs about organ donation, and genetic counseling for at-risk cultures.

Senior nursing major Veronica Marzonie and her clinical group chose the topic "Chinese Folk Medicine." Their poster will look into acupuncture, meditation, and herbal remedies.

"The poster will include information about how each practice is done, what it's used for, and how it can properly be used in conjunction with modern North American nursing care," she said.

Dr. Gloria Kersey-Matusiak, a registered nurse and professor of nursing at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, will serve as the keynote speaker. She will speak on how to provide competent nursing care in our multicultural society.

Kersey-Matusiak uses a model pioneered by Dr. Josepha Campinha-Bacote, which assists nurses in caring for individuals with diverse backgrounds, not only in regards to race or ethnicity.

She uses the example of a nurse treating an incarcerated patient. The nurse may know the reason why the patient is incarcerated, and the clash of values may result in difficulties providing the best care.

"Nurses have to care for patients from all walks of life," Kersey-Matusiak said. "Sometimes it makes it hard, because a lot of times nurses may think, ‘Well, I don't like what he did, so I'm not comfortable taking care of him.'"

Kersey-Matusiak stresses that nurses cannot allow their own values and beliefs to dictate how they treat a patient.

"This model helps you tap into your own biases, and your own prejudices, at any level, so you could move on from there and develop strategies to work through that," she said.

If nurses are not aware of culture differences, there are many problems that can result in giving certain groups of people the care they need. Differences arise regarding beliefs in immunizations, birth practices, and access to health care.

For example, Kersey-Matusiak points to the case of migrant workers, many of whom do farm work in Pennsylvania. Not only do many have a language barrier, but they also represent different health risks.

"If the nurse is not aware of the fact that they have different health issues because of their exposure to pesticides, then the patient will be the one to suffer if the nurse is not culturally competent," she said.

However, Kersey-Matusiak acknowledges the language barrier is the most common block preventing smooth health care. She argues that nurses must understand their responsibility to seek out a translator to make sure their patients understand what is happening.

"Sometimes when people are sick, especially very sick, even when they have skills to communicate in a foreign language like English, they may not be able to use it because they aren't in the state of mind to allow them to access those skills," she said.

One of the best ways to becoming a culturally competent nurse is learning a second language.

Kersey-Matusiak encourages young nurses to learn the language of the people they will be treating. For example, she has been learning Spanish all her life, since it is spoken by many people in her area.

"The nurse should try to at least learn some words and phrases, and become aware of resources that provide support," she said.

At Wilkes, learning a foreign language is encouraged, but it is not a formal component of the nursing courses. However, Drozdis emphasizes that diversity training is incorporated into the classes to train culturally sensitive nurses.

According to Marzonie, some aspect of cultural awareness was taught in classes among every level.

"Classes often discuss cultural scenarios that occur in health care situations," she said. "We learn about how individuals in different cultures tend to communicate, and how they approach health care. We also learn about different religious practices and how spirituality impacts nursing care."

Despite the cultural headway seen in the new generation of nurse training, Kersey-Matusiak says she still meets with some resistance by more established nurses. However, she believes that they must understand in just ten years, the world already will be a very different place.

"As we move forward, we all need to be culturally competent, no matter who we are," she said.

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