Why P.E.I. nursing students are learning about cultural sensitivity

Fourth-year nursing students at UPEI are learning about cultural sensitivity to help them in their health-care practice.

Class aims to make health-care experience better for newcomers

UPEI nursing students Bernadette Cheverie, left, and Julia Johnson play a game during their cultural inclusion class. (Karen Mair/CBC)

Nancy Ramsay is trying to explain to her classmate what she did this morning. But there's a catch: every time she uses a verb she has to say it another way.

Apart from laughter, the exercise forces these fourth-year UPEI nursing students to speak slower and think about their words — like someone from a different culture might have to.

Instructor Lisa Dollar knows it will help when they become nurses and try to communicate with patients from other cultures. 

'It would make a world of difference to a patient if their health-care provider understood where they're coming from.'  — Lisa Dollar

"With language, sometimes some people need more time to respond," she said. "With a lot of the dominant Canadian culture, we don't like silence. We tend to fill those silence gaps, but if we just pause we could be more successful."

Dollar works for the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada. For nine years she's been travelling across P.E.I. teaching people at Holland College, UPEI, businesses, law firms — even oil delivery companies — about cultural sensitivity.

'Assumptions are a problem'

Willow Wu, who is from China, has seen the issue from both sides.

"In some of my clinical rotations I will be approached by nursing colleagues to attend to a patient of Asian descent. Sometimes they are not from China and I don't know other Asian languages. Assumptions are a problem. But if you can take the time, there's other ways to break language barriers."  

Lisa Dollar, of the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, has been travelling across the province teaching about cultural sensitivity. (Karen Mair )

The class learns about cultural and religious practices they may encounter. Numerology and astrology, for instance, are important to the Chinese. If a patient was placed in Room 7 on Unit 4, that would be as unlucky as it gets. 

The students have been doing clinical rotations throughout their degree at local hospitals and care facilities. Julie Chu, from Taiwan, said learning about inclusion in class will be helpful in the workplace.

"When I was in the labour and delivery room I had a mom who was from another culture and I had no idea about her culture. My mentor showed me how to treat the mom appropriately, like cover them right away, they don't like to show body parts."

'See everyone as human'

According to the newcomers association, people from 80 countries arrived on P.E.I. last year.

Dollar said "it would make a world of difference to a patient if their health-care provider understood where they're coming from, their culture and how that affects your success in becoming healthy."  

Students brainstorm about challenges facing newcomers. (Karen Mair )

Ramsay, meanwhile, said the class helps teach people to not let their biases interfere with their health-care practice.

"You see everyone as a human," she said.