Our great country has always been considered the melting pot of the world. Apart from Native Americans, most of us have roots from other countries. That trend continues today as more and more people seek a better life in the United States. In tandem with increased diversity in the country there is a natural and notable increase in diversity in the nursing workforce.
We oftentimes think of diversity as only ethnicities but the expanded definition of diversity or differences can include values, gender and even sexual orientation. This increase in diversity in the nursing workforce can only advantage the quality of nursing care at the bedside as the patient mix is diverse.
In nursing, we all realize that there are key factors that are necessary to improve the quality of the health care we deliver. Those include:
- Empathy in nursing and understanding of others
Even though at times we do not fully understand the feelings and motivations of others, one of our core values in nursing is to protect the dignity of those we care for. This can only be done if we attempt to understand and empathize with our patients by trying to put ourselves in their place despite our differences.
- Engagement and participation on the part of the patient and significant others
It is well documented in the literature that an informed and engaged patient with a successful support system has a better chance of being compliant with their treatment thus having a better chance at improving their health. Engagement will only take place when there is a successful and meaningful relationship between the nurse and the patient.
To build on the previous thought, a successful relationship cannot develop in the absence of effective communication. It is imperative to find ways to make that vital connection with the patient. In the health care setting, communication becomes the nurse’s responsibility.
Improving Quality of Care
What can we, as nurses, do to improve the quality of care when dealing with diverse patients?
- Learn about inherent differences in other cultures
I had the opportunity to teach a diversity in health care course for a university. While preparing for the class, I learned so much about other ethnicities and cultures that I was not aware of including my own.
Being of Polish decent, while reviewing the material on this group, I learned that the polish people believe in stoicism and the importance of tolerating pain. These may be the patients that have pain but will not tell you. Reflecting on that, I remember my parents telling me that I need to accept pain and suffering if it comes my way and to always be strong. It is important to look for readings, conferences, courses and publications about diversity and characteristics of different ethnicities.
- Solicit help from your peers
There will always be situations where you will not be able to connect with your patient for a variety of reasons. Feel free to reach out to your peers that may be of the same ethnicity or may have more experience working with a certain population. Learn to learn from their experience.
- Use interpreters or interpretive devices
It is a requirement now that hospitals and health care organizations have interpretive support to meet the communication needs of the diverse patients. Become familiar with the services provided by your organization. This may be access toointerpreters, software or interpretive devices.
- Use education material in appropriate languages
In tandem with the interpretive services health care organizations are required to provide written materials in a variety of languages. This could be items such as signage, handouts our educational programs. Make sure you have access to them and that you use them.
Despite the challenges in nursing and increasing diversity in the field, we have all been drawn to this fine calling because we, as nurses, have a passion of caring and the desire to help others. We need to optimize the quality of our care by using every tool at our disposal to learn, connect and communicate with our patients. Their lives depend on it.