Caring for Patients from Different Cultures

Caring for Patients from Different Cultures

Caring for Patients from Different Cultures

Caring for Patients from Different Cultures


Healthcare providers in the American medical system may find that patients from different cultures bring unfamiliar expectations, anxieties, and needs into the examination room. To provide optimal care for all patients, it is important to see differences from the patient's perspective and to work with patients from a range of demographics. Caring for Patients from Different Cultures has been a vital resource for nurses and physicians for more than twenty years, offering hundreds of case studies that illustrate crosscultural conflicts or misunderstandings as well as examples of culturally competent health care.

Now in its fifth edition, Caring for Patients from Different Cultures covers a wide range of topics, including birth, end of life, communication, traditional medicine, mental health, pain, religion, and multicultural staff challenges. This edition includes more than sixty new cases with an expanded appendix, introduces a new chapter on improving adherence, and updates the concluding chapter with examples of changes various hospitals have made to accommodate cultural differences. Grounded in concepts from the fields of cultural diversity and medical anthropology, Caring for Patients from Different Cultures provides healthcare workers with a frame of reference for understanding cultural differences and sound alternatives for providing the best possible care to multicultural communities.


People are endlessly fascinating. I wrote this book because I think it is important that clinicians see that. When I wrote the first edition back in 1990, I had never heard the term “cultural competence.” Today, it is a very popular term and one I use frequently in this book. However, in all honesty, I’m not very concerned about definitions. Many other people are, and that’s fine. But I think the real key to attaining cultural competence is developing honest curiosity about other people.

I’m a medical anthropologist. What first drew me to anthropology was the realization that all the different aspects of a culture were interconnected. For example, people who live in traditional agricultural societies tend to value large families (more workers), live in permanent (they’re tied to the land) multigenerational houses (grandparents can help raise the grandchildren), practice warfare (they can support an army because efficiently growing crops means many people are freed from the task of food production), exhibit social stratification (due to varying degrees of wealth related to land ownership) and have strict sexual mores (since they own property, men don’t want to pass on their wealth to another man’s child). I found the interconnectedness comforting. It meant that things were (almost) predictable.

The other thing that appealed to me about anthropology was that it shows us how we are all simultaneously similar (we love, we hurt, we get angry, we need relationships, we like material goods, etc.) and yet so different. The difference is where culture comes in. We all want to feel self-esteem, for example, but what gives us self-esteem and what causes us to lose it varies from culture to culture. I find that interesting.

My goal is to help you, the reader, to see what I see. I do this by using case studies. I spend little time on theoretical issues. Over the years, I have found that the most effective way to make a point is to tell a story. People remember anecdotes much better than they do dry facts and theories. Theories that grow out of stories are much easier to grasp and retain than ones presented in a vacuum because they create a sense of empathy and resonate with our emotions. Thus, the emphasis is on case studies and the lessons we can draw from them. For that I must thank . . .

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