Nursing Responses to Transcultural Encounters: What Nurses Draw on When Faced with a Patient from Another Culture


Celeste Cang-Wong, RN, MS Candidate; Susan O Murphy, RN, DNS; Toby Adelman, RN, PhD

Summer 2009 - Volume 13 Number 3


Objective: We explored nurses' experiences when they encounter patients from cultures other than their own and their perception of what helps them deliver culturally competent care.

Methods: Registered nurses from all shifts and units at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center were invited to complete a questionnaire. Within the time frame allowed, 111 nurses participated by returning completed questionnaires.

A descriptive survey was conducted using a questionnaire that contained multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and open-ended items.

Results: A large majority of respondents reported that they drew on prior experience, including experience with friends and family, and through their education and training, and more than half also included travel experience and information obtained through the Internet and news media. They also expressed a desire for more training and continuing education, exposure to more diverse cultures, and availability of more interpreters. When respondents were asked to enumerate the cultures from which their patients have come, their answers were very specific, revealing that these nurses understood culture as going beyond ethnicity to include religious groups, sexual orientation, and social class (eg, homeless).

Discussion: Our research confirmed our hypothesis that nurses are drawing heavily on prior experience, including family experiences and experiences with friends and coworkers from different cultures. Our findings also suggest that schools of nursing are providing valuable preparation for working with diverse populations. Our research was limited to one geographic area and by our purposeful exclusion of a demographic questionnaire. We recommend that this study be extended into other geographic areas. Our study also shows that nurses are drawing on their experiences in caring for patients from other cultures; therefore, we recommend that health care institutions consider exposing not only nurses but also other health care professionals to different cultures by creating activities that involve community projects in diverse communities, offering classes or seminars on different cultures and having an active cultural education program that would reach out to nurses. The experiences provided by such activities and programs would help nurses become more sensitive to the differences between cultures and not immediately judge patients or make assumptions about them.


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