But is there another way to make culture impactful to our students? As a nurse educator, teaching your students an understanding of cultural impact in medicine can make a measurable difference in patient care.
Confusing stereotypes with culture
In a typical nursing curriculum, you will find a definition of culture and then a list of definitions of race, ethnicity, religion, and so on. Students may learn a few theories of culture, and then talk about cultures, religions, and ethnicities be given facts about each one.
For example, most nursing students have been taught in nursing school about a religion that will not accept blood products, or that problems with high blood pressure are more prevalent among a particular race, or that certain cultures think it is disrespectful to look others in the eyes when talking. If you went to nursing school just mentioning one of these assumptions brings a group of people to your mind. Are we inadvertently sending students the wrong message? If this is all nursing educators teach about culture, what is really being taught is stereotyping.
Stereotyping is a generalized belief about a particular category of people that leads to an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group.
The danger in stereotyping groups of people is that stereotyping leads to prejudice - an attitude toward a group of people because of beliefs. And prejudice leads to discrimination, which in the medical setting means denying someone a fundamental right to care because of the practitioner’s beliefs. As nurse educators we have an important role in stopping this kind of discrimination in medical treatment before it starts.
The impact of cultural education on medical practice
How might continuing to teach culture this way might affect a patient? Let’s consider an example. A new graduate nurse has a patient who is a member of a religion that does not eat meat according to what the nurse has learned in nursing school. The patient has a medical diagnosis of iron deficiency anemia. The nurse is performing discharge teaching on an iron-rich diet. But because the nurse believes the patient does not eat meat the nurse eliminates any teaching on iron-rich protein sources from animals. The patient does eat meat, but because the nurse assumed, the nurse avoided discussing those foods in their teaching.
Based on the instruction from the nurse, the patient believes meat is not a part of the prescribed diet and avoids it. See the potential for harm? This could have been avoided had the nurse received better cultural training during nursing school.