While humility is considered a virtue, in reality, it is a sadly uncommon trait. Polarized opinions consistently spring up across different subgroups within society. Opposing political views or religious inclinations often leave little room for our own self-reflection and acceptance that we just might not always be right. The lack of humility overcomes the willingness to be wrong and to give consideration to the validity of others and their beliefs.
In the context of healthcare, cultural humility allows the healthcare providers to reflect on their own background and beliefs, and examine how that impacts the care they provide. The lack of cultural humility in healthcare presents the opportunity for an unfortunate power struggle that loses sight of prioritizing patient outcomes.
Healthcare professionals need to maintain an appreciation for cultural humility and its components as patient populations are becoming increasingly diverse. Self-reflection is essential for clinicians to be able to provide appropriate care to a diverse patient load. A strong foundation in these traits is provided in the Introduction to Cultural Competence and Humility course offered by Premiere Education, and can help medical professionals start moving in the right direction.
It’s not enough to simply say that we as medical providers need to have cultural humility. Knowing the “why” behind the “what” and establishing an understanding of the practical reasoning behind it is key.
1. Understand How Racism and Power Impact Health Outcomes
Racism as it relates to healthcare reaches well beyond misguided individual interactions. Racism in healthcare creeps its way into systemic structure, policy, and norms while creating a dangerous dynamic of disadvantage and loss of opportunity with the potential to impact the physical and mental health of numerous people.
The imbalance of power that is subsequently created has a profound impact on health outcomes. Minority groups across the United States experience disproportionately higher rates of illness and death across multiple health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and heart disease. This disparity became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cultural humility represents an acknowledgment of the intersection of multiple complex issues in healthcare such as racism and health inequality. Cultural humility in healthcare is less of a measurable goal to be obtained and more of an evolving process of self-reflection seeking to positively impact the health outcomes of all patients served.
2. Learn Cultural Competence
As healthcare professionals we learn and train to develop the skills we need to be successful in our role. This is essential to developing the competence to work independently. The concept of cultural competence is not far off in that developing cultural competence relates to the development of the knowledge, skills, and attitude to successfully support patients within their own cultural context.
Cultural competence includes knowledge and understanding beyond just ethnicity and race. It encompasses an appreciation for the challenges faced by other marginalized groups and vulnerable populations. Members of the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities, for example, are often greeted with an unfair attitude of inequality.
Members of these marginalized populations have unfortunately experienced a challenging history in the context of their interactions with health professionals. This isn’t exactly surprising as there has not traditionally been an appreciation for preparing medical professionals to respond to their special and sometimes complex considerations.
Members of minority populations may experience difficulty in discussing their medical conditions or may perceive that there is a lack of understanding when it comes to their set of circumstances. This can put those patients at risk for health conditions that may go untreated, or allow them to miss out on preventative health measures that would otherwise support their wellness. Cultural humility in healthcare and developing cultural competence guides us in how to respond to diverse patient populations and is essential to help close these gaps.
3. Become More Self-Aware, Compassionate, and Effective in Your Healthcare Role
It is no secret that even in the great country of the United States health disparities persist even as we’ve entered 2023. What is equally well documented and disappointing is the notion that supporting the persistence of these disparities is the biased beliefs and attitudes maintained by health professionals.
Experiencing episodes of poor treatment compared to non-minority groups causes people to lose trust in the health system. Some even develop a fear of conventional healthcare systems. Biased attitudes run the risk of driving people away from the care they need, removing the mindset that they can be active participants in their own health. The subsequent lower standards of care and perception of the health system can sabotage patient outcomes.
Medical professionals need to become more aware of their own behavior, attitudes, and thought patterns. Reflecting on the care we give across diverse populations reveals the potential impact we can have on the quality of care in becoming more self-aware.
Becoming more aware and acknowledging our opportunities to improve is a responsibility we owe to our patients. Take some time to learn more about these concepts and appreciate the impact improved awareness can have on the communities we serve. Our patients deserve a healthcare workforce that is willing to acknowledge our differences while focusing on respect and understanding.