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Cultural and Language Barriers in Nursing

Nurses today are providing care, education and management to an increasingly diverse patient population that is challenged with cultural and language barriers.  But it’s not just the patients; the NHS employs over 200 different nationalities which creates a varied and diverse workplace.

People don’t always realise how important their own cultural values are and how they have shaped their views and perceptions about the world, nor how these values can potentially cause misunderstandings with others.

Tone of voice and actions can mean different things in different cultures.

As an example, the thumbs up signal was thought to come from WWII pilots signalling each other in the air. The positive “thumbs up” in Western cultures is a big no-no in other countries, such as Greece, Italy and throughout the Middle East. It’s essentially the equivalent of the middle finger, which is why you should keep your thumbs safely tucked away if you aren’t sure about the local customs.

The “a-ok” symbol is great in the UK and USA but in Europe or Japan it could be seen as an insult.

If you don’t like the way someone is working or the way someone speaks to you or a patient, then you should address this tactfully. When you enter a new work place then you need to adapt to the culture and language of the area you are working in.

Listen to your co-workers actively, displaying positive body language during the listening process. Listening intently allows you to read between the lines.  Pay attention to the way your co-workers say things and ask questions if anything is unclear. They will recognize your willingness to listen and appreciate being asked to explain an unclear point.

The character of a nurse is as important as the knowledge she possesses.
Carolyn Javis

As healthcare workers you will come into contact with a wide range of ethnicities in your patients and co-workers. Understanding that not everyone is the same and that differences are easy to misconstrue as insulting, will mean you will be able to work better together.


Responses to this article

  1. Posted by Alice, 07/08/2016 22:50:28

    Thank you for recognising this, it should have posters around, Hospitals, private care Homes, Dental Practices GP surgeries and public Transport. Good for Team 24 NO thumbs up but.!!!!

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