There can be no question that Nurse Practitioners (NPs) face a wide range of challenges in their work. From providing crucial first-line care – often in emergency circumstances – to carrying out complex administrative tasks and constant communication with patients, physicians, families, and other healthcare stakeholders, nurse practitioners have both a high level of responsibility and complete exceptionally important tasks daily. Arguably one of the most important, most demanding, and also most rewarding areas of the NP role, however, is how to support culturally diverse populations and manage the demands that come with this particular field.
This article examines why cultural factors are so important in healthcare, the most important areas of concern, and the main ways in which nurse practitioners (NPs) can best treat and communicate with culturally diverse populations. In addition, it explores the kind of career paths that can help prospective NPs develop a significant level of expertise in this field. Finally, it will touch on the importance of experience in both work and life in general, a positive attitude to lifelong learning, and the right kind of attitude when dealing with a wide range of people.
A crucial part of care
A culturally diverse population can be defined as one where many cultures, races, and ethnicities are represented. The diversity of a given population is often crucial to healthcare, as cultural factors can often play a significant role in how care is administered and received. Although the possible situations where culture can be important are almost limitless, some typical examples include a reluctance to accept medication as a form of treatment among particular religious groups. Additionally, there may be a greater or lesser tendency towards certain illnesses in various sections of the population due to genetic differences, or a reluctance to seek out care related to mental health because of a cultural stigma.
Given its incredible range of diversity, the US naturally presents a wide array of situations in healthcare where cultural factors may be impactful. For NPs, who typically operate as frontline health workers and confront a wide range of different situations, it is essential to develop a keen awareness and appreciation of the importance of diversity. They must also operate and thrive in diverse contexts. Cultural diversity can influence the way healthcare is delivered in many different contexts. As a result, whether they are working at hospitals, outpatient clinics, providing elderly care or at substance abuse rehabilitation centers, it is important for health professionals to be able to understand and manage a wide array of cultural, racial, and socioeconomic factors.
Several studies have demonstrated the importance for patients to have access to diverse healthcare teams, while research has also shown that socioeconomic factors can significantly impact life expectancy. In addition, if patients have the option to converse with people of a similar background or communicate in their native language when receiving treatment, they are also more likely to seek out and accept care. While no single health professional can be all things to all people, a more diverse team with accepting and tolerant members can create a welcoming and positive atmosphere for all.
Staff diversity among health professionals has also been shown to have significant benefits among employees in the workplace. In addition to leading to improved engagement and retention among staff, being part of a more diverse team also helps the members of that team to be more comfortable treating patients from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Finally, diversity has also been shown to lead to an increase in creativity and innovation, with different points of view and perspectives helping to contribute to new ideas and ways to improve many areas of care.
On the same wavelength
Communication is one of the most crucial factors whenever healthcare professionals are faced with people from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds. This is especially important when providing urgent care, where it is often essential to not only establish a diagnosis, but also to ensure that the patient can understand the situation they are in, and that they can follow any relevant instructions. Naturally, miscommunication (a failure to understand or be understood can), in some cases, be both hugely frustrating and dangerous.
Language proficiency is certainly a huge advantage if, for example, the NP is operating in an area with a significant number of Spanish speakers. Simultaneously, there are also other basic communication techniques that can also help facilitate the provision of good care in these circumstances. For example, most educators in this area stress the importance of speaking plainly and clearly. When the information is especially important – for example, if trying to ascertain if someone has taken any substances, or when issuing medication – it is beneficial to repeat instructions and ask specific questions to ensure that everything has been understood. In addition, whenever possible, it is always a good idea for NPs to provide patients with written information as well. If, for example, someone has a major operation, receiving written instructions that they can take home to read and absorb at their own pace can make aftercare much more likely to be successful.
When faced with a diverse population, it is also essential to maintain a positive attitude and follow the principles of acceptance, tolerance, and openness. Although in the short term, a mix of contrasting cultures can present certain difficulties, it is important to recognize the advantages. There are many cultures and, particularly in healthcare, everything will almost certainly be much easier if differences are respected. By maintaining a fundamental approach that acknowledges and accepts that all cultural expressions are valid, NPs should be mentally prepared to deal with a wide range of cultural situations. Conversely, resistance to or denial of cultural differences will only make it harder to provide the highest level of healthcare to all patients.
A positive attitude towards different cultures can be enhanced by developing a deeper understanding of how cultural factors can influence patient behavior. The ability to cope well in a variety of situations also requires a sophisticated understanding of cultural context. For example, if a patient rejects the medication that the NP has prescribed for religious reasons, ignorance of those beliefs may cause the NP to become frustrated or annoyed. But if they are aware of the issue, they can preempt it and, if necessary, persuade the patient of the necessity of the medication. If appropriate, they can work to develop an alternative plan of treatment consistent with the beliefs of the patient.
Preparation is everything
Although most people will develop a reasonably advanced understanding of different cultures, particularly those that they grow up in or they encounter regularly, there will always be limitations to this knowledge. Fortunately, today there is a far greater understanding and awareness of the importance of culture in providing healthcare. As a result, many NP courses also encompass cross-cultural training and education.
Generally, these courses can be completed on a flexible basis and provide prospective NPs with detailed training in the profession and a greater understanding of cultural factors. If a Registered Nurse (RN) chooses to pursue a Master of Science Nursing online degree, they can qualify as an NP in as little as two years. Thanks to the digital nature of the degree, students can do so while maintaining a part or full-time job. In addition, with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from Wilkes University, they can choose to specialize as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP), or a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). The course provides specific training on cultural sensitivity, historical, political, social, and ethical aspects of advanced nursing, and also how to work best with culturally diverse populations.
In addition, graduates also emerge with a greater understanding of health policy and the general nursing environment, receiving training in advanced nursing research and diagnostic reasoning.
The right approach in the workplace
Upon graduation, NPs will enjoy countless additional opportunities to learn about cultural diversity in healthcare throughout the course of their career. As well as having the chance to treat patients of various cultural backgrounds or socioeconomic status, NPs will also work with healthcare professionals from all walks of life. Throughout their career, the best NPs will work hard to increase their level of understanding, whether through informal peer-to-peer conversations, mentoring schemes, or formal cultural diversity training.
The promotion of inclusivity and diversity in health institutions’ hiring practices can also be a great way to ensure that staff can meet the challenges and opportunities of diverse populations. Fortunately, although there is much more to be done in this area, health institutions are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of diversity. Most will expect and encourage the development of ever more inclusive teams in the future.
In addition, it is also extremely important for NPs to continue to learn about other cultures throughout their professional career. This can be done in a variety of ways. In addition to in-house training, NPs can learn about cultural diversity in healthcare through their own personal reading, online videos or courses, or external conferences and organizations. Regardless of the approach, self-reflection and continuous learning are unquestionably a key component of growth in this area.
A crucial aspect of care
For NPs, the ability to treat and communicate well with culturally diverse populations is far more than a luxury – it is often a hugely important part of their job. While in the past a certain degree of ignorance may have been accepted by some and hidden by many, today in healthcare a more understanding, patient-centered approach is the bare minimum. It has also been shown to produce positive results for both patients and healthcare professionals.
Nurse practitioners must collaborate with a larger interdisciplinary team and primary care physicians to develop and implement individualized care plans for seniors and other high-risk patients, taking into account cultural diversity with the aim of working for the best interests of the patients.
In fact, cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural communication is now a basic expectation of most healthcare employers and patients. By combining a tolerant, positive, and empathetic attitude with specific training and an excellent understanding of cultural aspects in healthcare, NPs can incorporate this into their daily work. As a result, they can continue to contribute to achieving positive patient outcomes across the board. Continuing professional development (CPD) is central to nurse practitioners’ lifelong learning and constitutes a vital aspect for keeping nurses’ knowledge and skills up-to-date. Nurse practitioners should continue to actively engage in continuing professional development to maintain high standards of nursing care through competent practice.