We Can Make a Difference – Culture & Care

“What do you think made you sick?” I inquired of my Mexican-American patient. She obviously displayed symptoms of bronchitis. Her response – “I opened the window too fast and the wind got inside of me!” This is a comment I’ve received from many of my Mexican-American patients. Many of their beliefs about health and illness revolve around the balance of hot and cold and the effect of the environment and wind. With the Asian population the balance of yin and yang is essential to good health. When the body, mind or spirit is out of balance, illness occurs. To restore health, balance is sought. And what about the influence of the spirit world and angry ancestors who are the instigators of illness? For those in the Hmong population malevolent spirits cause illness, thus requiring the healer to sacrifice an animal that will enter the spirit world and fight for that person. Cultural beliefs, in fact, do influence our health care decisions and actions. I’ve been a nurse practitioner for over twenty years and have seen what a difference cultural sensitivity can make when treating patients
Today, many of us in the health care field are unaware of the significance of such cultural knowledge. We treat all patients the same, using a Western medicine approach. But what if that is not enough? Do we inquire about their beliefs about healing? My Mexican-American patient may have already tried herbal medicines, seen a curandera, or heeded the advice of her grandmother prior to the appointment. Cultural assessments are key to garnering beliefs about health, illness and healing, family roles and responsibilities during illness, the influence of religion and spirituality, and much more. Cultural knowledge and context are paramount to providing quality care that ensures good health outcomes.
Can we make a difference? Yes, we can. We can if we care – care enough to spend time doing a cultural assessment on every patient we treat. Together we can make a difference in this world. Will you join me on the journey?

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