Developing Cultural Competence Across Healthcare Systems

Authored by:
Sapphire B.

In my home, we spoke Patwa, but everywhere else we spoke with a slightly Southern accent. Switching between these dialects of English depending on who we were interacting with was customary in my household. Through an unconscious competence of my dominating Jamaican and American spheres that I derived from, I was able to navigate both spaces in ways that honored their unique qualities without giving my transitions between them much thought. So how can the way just one word is pronounced conceive a plethora of predetermined judgements made by an outside party from another cultural background? Moreover, how do cultural linguistics and patterns of behavior that are specific to a group of people dictate their healthcare (or lack thereof) experiences? And why should this even be the indicator of equitable Public Health? In relation to the intersections between intercultural communication and Global Public Health that was discussed in this course, my own cultural “lens” has shifted to highlight the importance of consciously respecting one’s cultural practices and ideologies as a crucial part in developing effective healthcare systems.

One particular activity that aided in redefining my conceptions of culture and Global Public Health was the group mini presentations of different sectors dealing with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In this exercise, each group was tasked to find a plausible and specific solution to an issue facing these sectors of NCDs by directly altering a healthcare system itself and a problem outside of healthcare. Bouncing ideas from how to effectively input some concepts of Obamacare to how to fund recreational facilities in lower income areas, my group faced challenges in discovering policies or programs that were already established and directing those ordinances to serve the public sector.

After as much deliberation as the fifteen-minute period we were given to research our potential solutions would allow, we finally decided on two effective strategies. As a lack of accessibility to affordable healthcare institutions is a major problem facing Global Public Health (specifically those who have NCDs in this scenario), pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens could expand their immunization schedules to include other needed examinations like physicals. These institutions are spread throughout a majority of communities, allowing individuals to have shorter commutes and access to affordable healthcare. On the other side, the National Health Service Corps could publicize Public Service Loans Forgiveness Programs that would encourage physicians to work in Health Professional Shortage Areas by repaying their student loans. Peer support specialists could also be trained in areas beyond substance and drug abuse so that they could assist communities in lower income areas to go their appointments and assist them in interacting with healthcare staff, which could include language translations.

This activity illustrates how communication and understanding how communities are placed in relation to healthcare can define their experiences dealing with their health. Real solutions are conceivable; they just have to be directed to those who actually need them. On a global scale, lingering questions how to prepare for outbreaks of infectious diseases still exist. But how can hospitals combat infectious diseases and utilize sanitary practices when they do not have running water? How can outbreaks be contained when members of an infected region continue to participate in unconscious highly transmissible activities due to cultural protocols? You have to start by examining the behaviors and customs that are specific to the group's norms and then just inform them. We must have the competence to transition between one cultural specific practice to the other. Navigating the spheres that are distinct to each community, the global effort to enact effective healthcare systems will be propelled forward and have long lasting ramifications

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