#GlobalHealthCorner: The Importance of Diversity in HealthCare

As our world becomes more and more closely interconnected, the need for intercultural dialogue, diversity, and inclusivity has become more essential than ever. In sectors of society where gaps between communities have widened through the passage of time and inequities have become a way of life, more than ever, the cry of our current generation has grown, demanding the bridging of such spaces. Although we have come far, there is still much work to be done.

In a recent paper by Nair & Adetayo, 2019, it was stated that “today’s model of healthcare has persistent challenges with cultural competency, and racial, gender, and ethnic disparities.” Even though our societies have grown immensely, many of our current healthcare systems are still not reflective of the “varying cultures, races, and ethnicities” of the patients that interact with them. In addition to this, despite the growing knowledge of how “diverse populations require personalized approaches to meet their healthcare needs“, the lack of diversity among healthcare providers remains an obstacle. An obstacle that is, unfortunately, harming patients.

Many studies have shown that the staggering lack of representation among physicians, nurses, and other essential healthcare providers, can be linked to the increased risks of health complications and death that people of color face when receiving care. In a 2020 study done by the CDC, it was found that when compared to their White counterparts, Black and Native women were “two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues.” Even in the midst of the global pandemic, racial disparities seem to have worsened as studies show that Black and Native “population deaths and infections are rising disproportionately.” While the reasons for such health outcomes are “vast and complex“, we cannot deny the role that diversity plays in the health of such patients. We cannot deny that “the lack of representation is about far more than appearances“. We cannot deny that healthcare systems that do not reflect the diverse nature of their patients may be causing them harm.

How do we address this issue?

Cultural competence is probably one of the most critical tools that healthcare providers can use when interacting with patients of varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural competence is the ability of healthcare providers to “recognize and respect patients with diverse values, beliefs, behaviors and linguistic needs.” According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it can also be described as

the combination of a body of knowledge, a body of belief and a body of behavior because it requires healthcare professionals to understand cultural differences and respond accordingly.” This intersection of knowledge, beliefs, and behavior is where patient care can be impacted.

National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2020

When patients and communities of diverse backgrounds are able to interact with diverse healthcare providers who can relate to their perspectives, have a deeper understanding, and empathetic view of their experiences, such patients are more likely to have positive health outcomes. In a study by Alsan et al., 2018, it was found that Black men were more likely to fully share their health issues with Black doctors, and Black doctors were more likely to take more detailed notes about their Black patients than White doctors. Studies have also shown that patients are more likely to actively participate in their own health when working with healthcare providers of their own race or ethnicity.

There are many ways in which we can increase diversity among healthcare providers, however, just as Rome was not built in a day, improving diversity in healthcare is not a change that can happen overnight. It is a process that requires the dismantling of traditional infrastructures and an ability to adapt to new ways of thinking, and models of healthcare. Currently, there are many institutions around the globe that are making efforts to ensure that their healthcare models and providers are culturally competent and representative of the populations they are serving. According to the study by Nair & Adetayo, 2019, many are using the following 5 interventions:

  1. The maintenance and introduction of programs that recruit and retain diverse staff members.
  2. The introduction of mandatory cultural competency training for healthcare providers.
  3. The use of interpreter services to help individuals from different backgrounds effectively communicate. 
  4. The implementation of culturally appropriate health education materials to inform staff of different cultural backgrounds.
  5. The provision of culturally specific healthcare settings.

There is still much work to be done, but the work is not impossible. Through active participation and collaboration at all levels, we can improve diversity in healthcare and ensure that every patient is heard, cared for appropriately, and represented.

Together we can make an impact on the health of the nations and the generations to come.

The mission of WHEF is to increase accessibility to medications and supplies for healthcare facilities in Guatemala and Grenada. If you are interested in hearing more about the work we are doing, or in connecting with us, you can visit our website, check out our instagram or facebook, or sign up to receive our newletters. If you would like to support us in our work, please donate here.

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