Cultural Sensitivity Attracts Ethnic Populations and Enhances Brand

August 1, 2014

by Cheryl Haas

Cheryl HaasIn American culture, we joke about superstition but we hedge our bets: We don’t walk under a ladder, don’t let a black cat cross our collective path, and don’t include a 13th floor on high-rise buildings. But in a hospital setting, we often unwittingly expose people from other cultures to elements that have negative or superstitious meanings to them.

Patient sensitivity can be culture-specific

Geri-Ann Galanti, Ph.D., trained as a medical anthropologist, has made a career of teaching medical personnel how to become culturally sensitive. “I’ve had nurses say to me that they’ve been treating patients from all over the world for 20 years, so why do they need this class,” says Galanti. “But it’s not enough to treat every person equally and with respect. As a clinician, you must learn to focus on asking the right questions that get at the patient’s perception of the problem, and to be aware that not everyone behaves the same way for the same reasons.”

For example, Galanti says that if an OB nurse were to encounter a woman from rural Mexico and admire her baby—without touching the infant at the same time— the woman would be terrified that the nurse was casting an evil eye upon the child. Galanti cites an incident in which a hospital board member, who was Chinese, was admitted and put into Room 444. “The Chinese associate the number four with death,” she says. “They quickly changed his room and subsequently changed their phone number, which also had several fours in it.”

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