by Rev. Steven K. Wheeler, MSN, RN Minority Nurse Writer
As a nursing professor, I believe it is my moral obligation to give my students the very best preparation I can give them. It is my duty to train these future nurses to care holistically for their patients. Students must be made aware that they are not just treating a disease process, they are treating a person—i.e., an individual with his or her own unique background, beliefs and culture. That is why I feel it is essential to integrate transcultural principles and practices into my teaching.
The area of nursing that I teach is pharmacology. In this context, my students need to learn that they are treating someone whose culture may need to be considered when administering medication. In one of my exercises with the students, I ask them to develop a questionnaire to use when asking patients about their medication history. All too often, the students fail to take into account the cultural practices of their patient. They ask: “What medications did your physician prescribe?” Most students fail to recognize that not all patients are prescribed medications by a physician in the Western medical system’s sense of the term. In some cultures, patients may also be taking medicines prescribed by traditional healers, such as curanderos, medicine men or practitioners of herbal medicine.
This example illustrates why it’s so important for nursing students to learn to think outside the box of their own familiar cultural experience. Despite the fact that America is now more than ever a nation of immigrants from all parts of the world, the majority of my students did not stop to think that perhaps someone within the patient’s own culture had prescribed something for them that might be contraindicated with what their physician at the hospital or clinic prescribed. Teaching students to think outside of their cultural comfort zone, and to ask questions that respect the culture of their patients, will result in better patient outcomes.
Incorporating transcultural principles into nursing education can take other forms as well. As an African American who has worked his way up in the nursing profession from an LPN to a master’s-prepared nurse educator, I can count on one hand the number of nurses of color who instructed or mentored me during my educational journey. Therefore, I make sure to expose my students to scholars of color and to journals that reflect the academic achievements of people of color.
Because the students we teach today are more culturally diverse than ever before, nursing educators must also learn to break out of their own cultural comfort zones and embrace diverse teaching styles. A one-size-fitsall approach will not meet the needs of every future nurse who is about to embark on his or her professional journey. Students need to be given opportunities to collaborate and work on projects with students from communities and cultures other than their own. This will help them learn to appreciate the input and knowledge shared by others.
Finally, I believe the need to think outside the cultural comfort zone also applies to schools of nursing. It is important for both students and instructors to be in an educational environment that respects all cultures, teaching strategies and learning styles. Some institutions of higher learning pride themselves on the diversity of their student body and faculty, but beneath the surface there is no diversity of thought or action. Everyone is encouraged to think the same and act the same. If we as nursing leaders expect to prepare a new generation of culturally sensitive nurses to enter the profession, we must set the example through our policies and behavior.