Contributor: Barbara Eichorst, MS, RD, CDE, Diabetes Clinical Liaison
In partnership with
Cultural competencies in healthcare and diabetes are very dear to me. I came to the United States as a little girl and was the one who accompanied my parents to multiple doctors’ visits for many years. Both of my parents had complicated cardiovascular health conditions, and I was the one in the middle of not just translating the conversations but culturally adjusting it. I did not know it at that time, but now I realize that the fact that I was a naïve child was actually to their advantage as I translated it better than an adult would.
We are part of a multicultural world. As healthcare providers (HCPs), we approach the cultural diversity with concordance, patience, and understanding that we are part of building culturally competent health systems.
Culture means traditions, beliefs, customs, and history that can be shared by people of the same ethnicity, language, nationality, or religion. It can be expressed by sets of rules that are the base of who we are, affect how we express ourselves, how we learn, and the ways we relate it.
My first professional exposure to cultural diversity was when a male patient did not want to shake my hand when we first met. He also did not look me at my eyes when we talked. I took it as a personal rejection and assumed he did not like me, and there was something wrong with me. Now I realize that he was actually doing the exact opposite: not touching or looking at a woman who he did not know. It was a sign of respect.
These days HCPs get training on cultural knowledge, awareness, sensitivity, and competence that aligns with organizational values. Here are the top three things that you can do to align your cultural needs with your HCPs.
- Keep an open mind about the cultural diversity of your HCPs. We are all humans, and some of the HCPs might look like you and speak the same language, but have a different approach to communicating and relating with you. Some of the HCPs might show empathy by a way that seems as if they are giving you orders vs. others who might give you a hug. They are also part of a personal or organizational culture that you might fit in or not.
- Indicate to your HCPs your preferences in the way you would like to be treated as a patient. You can say, ‘I have a need to not be rushed when I talk, as otherwise I get nervous and cannot fully express myself’. You can also say that ‘the fact I have an accent does not mean that I need any special treatment and I want to be treated the same as other without an accent’. Many times the way we speak or dress does not define us.
- You can educate your HCPs about your cultural background and preference. Set expectations for active listening, nonverbal communication, and personal touch. Your HCPs will be happy to know it, as it will allow them to provide you with person-centered interventions that are now part of standards of care.
In conclusion, we as HCPs, are all united in the way that we value diversity, conduct cultural self-assessment, understand the dynamics of difference, and function within institutional culture. Cultural competency is a process that does not end, and we keep on learning how to adapt to diversity among us.
You, as a person with diabetes, have a right to express yourself and your preferences in order to receive the treatment that you deserve. You can share with your HCPs all aspects of you that impact the way you function within the healthcare system - like your nationality, ethnicity, language, race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, spiritual beliefs/practice, and physical/mental abilities.
All of the aspects of cultural competencies increase understanding, problem-solving, participation, cooperation, and inclusion. Expressing our cultural preferences helps minimize mistakes and conflict, and decreases mutually unwanted surprises that might slow progress. In the end, our diabetes culture is the one that unites us all, and we are all in it together!
Barbara joined Voluntis in January 2018 as a Diabetes Clinical Liaison. Prior to Voluntis, Barbara has worked with Healthy Interactions as Vice President of Clinical Care on a global program that involved over 120 countries. With the Conversation Map program, she has traveled to over 40 countries within the last eleven years.
Barbara’s experience also includes work in Chicago as insulin education specialist and a medical liaison. Barbara’s professional experience includes work at American Association of Diabetes Educators as a program director. Also, at the Chicago based Rush University Medical Center, Barbara was a diabetes program manager. She has provided patient education in diabetes, weight management, cardiovascular disease among many other chronic conditions at Loyola University Medical Center and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Barbara’s professional focus is on behavioural interventions in disease management. She has contributed to multiple publications with her expertise in change activation, empowerment and engagement.