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The United States is a country with an extremely diverse population. This diversity contains different people who share different cultures, traditions, beliefs, and perspectives. Many people have blended their cultures with others, but most people still adhere to their native cultures. Each culture has its own views and perspectives on certain areas in life, especially health care. This paper will focus on different cultural backgrounds, specifically Polish, Russian, and Irish cultures, and their beliefs and traditions. Additionally, this paper will explore the cultural and religious beliefs and attitudes towards health care, health protection, and health maintenances for these three cultural groups.

Culture’s Impact on Health

According to Edelman and Mandel, “Culture…refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. It is ‘shaped by values, beliefs, norms, and practices that are shared by members of the same cultural group'” (Edelman & Mandel, 2014, p. 24). As mentioned before, culture influences every aspect of a person’s life, which includes his or her beliefs, values, and customs on lifestyle and health care. Since health care providers in the United States are very likely to encounter people of different cultural backgrounds, it is extremely pivotal to be aware of the different beliefs, values, and customs that patients may have. These beliefs and values will affect their behavior and what health care options are available for them. Therefore, health care providers must be culturally competent. Cultural competence is “the ability to give care to an individual that demonstrates awareness of and sensitivity to the underlying personal and cultural reality of the individual by identifying and using cultural norms, values, and communication and time patterns in collecting and interpreting assessment information” (Edelman & Mandel, 2014). Nurses and other health care providers need to be culturally competent to be able to provide the best care to each patient. By exhibiting cultural competence and having an awareness of a patient’s culture, values, and beliefs, a nurse can make the patient feel comfortable and valued, which can also help improve the patient’s compliance with his or her health care.

Heritage Assessment Tool (HAT)

            Nurses should utilize the Heritage Assessment Tool (HAT) to obtain valuable information about the patient’s cultural, ethnic, and religious background. This tool helps nurses to determine the patient’s different needs and practices that need to be addressed when providing a beneficial health care plan. This tool was utilized when interviewing three culturally different families: a Catholic Polish family, a Jewish Russian family, and a Catholic Irish family. The HAT portrayed some similarities among the three families such as the fact that spouses were of the same religion and ethnic background, all belong to a religious institution, all practice religion at home and are active members of their institution, all prepare ethnic foods and practice ethnic activities, and all prefer to speak their native language. However, due to the different cultures and religions, each family has different health care beliefs and needs that must be considered by nurses.

Catholic Polish Family

            The Heritage Assessment Tool (HAT) was first given to a Catholic Polish family, who strongly adheres to their religious beliefs and practices. It is important for nurses and health care providers to be aware of the practices that Catholics may want to participate in while admitted to a hospital. For instance, there are some sacraments and blessings such as Confession and Holy Communion that Catholic patients may want to participate in before surgeries. In those cases, a priest needs to be requested or a Eucharistic minister if the patient wants to receive Communion (Ehman, 2012). Additionally, patients who may be extremely sick or near death might request to participate in the Sacrament of the Sick, or the Last Rites, so a Catholic priest must be contacted in that case as well. Nurses must also be aware that many Catholics follow religious practices like weekly attendance at Mass and special observance of religious holidays, and an interruption in such practices can be distressing; therefore, they should arrange for a priest to come to the patient or bring the patient to a chapel. Some Catholics even carry religious objects with them like rosary beads, so nurses need to be aware of such objects and ensure that they are not destroyed or thrown away. Lastly, during religious holidays or seasons, Catholics may participate in certain dietary restrictions. For instance, during the season of Lent, many Catholics may abstain from meat, so nurses must be aware of these dietary changes.

            Religious practices and beliefs are not the only factors that affect a person’s health care, but also the cultural/ethnic beliefs and practices are a big factor. When it comes to minor aches and pains or illnesses, most Polish people will try to heal themselves with home remedies or over-the-counter medicines. For colds and flu-like symptoms, Poles will often eat chicken noodle soup, drink tea with honey or raspberry syrup, eat spoonfuls of honey to soothe sore throats, eat slices of bread with butter and garlic, dress warmly, take hot baths with salt, and even take cold or pain medicine if needed. Many Poles “display stoicism towards pain and may ‘suffer’ in silence,” so they will wait a couple of days before seeing a doctor. However, if they are experiencing serious pains or illnesses, they will immediately see a doctor. Sometimes, Polish people associate their pain with religion and believe that their pain comes from God, so they must repent and change their behaviors (Diversicare, 2006). Overall, health is extremely important to Polish people, and if they have serious illnesses or pains, they will visit a doctor or hospital.

Catholic Irish Family

            A Catholic Irish family was also interviewed using HAT. The religious beliefs and practices were already mentioned before in the section about the Catholic Polish family. Therefore, in this section, only the cultural and ethnic practices and perspectives about health will be discussed. Like most people, Irish people attribute good health to good food and physical exercise. Irish people, however, associate health with luck and attitudes (McCluskey, 2000). If someone is happy and has a positive attitude, then they will have good health; however, if someone is filled with stress and has a negative attitude, then they will experience illnesses. Some Irish home remedies that are practiced for minor colds and aches include drinking tea (specifically ginger, mint, or green tea), eating honey (with salt sometimes), drinking hot whiskey, wrapping their feet in garlic or onions, and drinking carbonated drinks for stomach pain (Hendicott, 2017). If the illnesses get very serious, Irish people will seek out medical advice and go see a doctor or a health care provider.

Jewish Russian Family

            Lastly, a Jewish Russian family was interviewed using HAT. As with many religions, some Jewish people might strongly follow all Jewish beliefs and practices, while others might only observe certain practices and beliefs. Therefore, nurses need to ask the patient about their preferences, but they should still be aware of all Jewish practices. Many Jewish people might observe the rule to not work on the Sabbath or other religious holidays, which would affect health care because work could include any tasks or tools that need electricity (Ehman, 2012). Moreover, any medical procedures that are needed right away should not be scheduled on the Sabbath or religious holidays out of respect for Jewish patients. Additionally, Jews follow a Kosher diet, meaning that they must prepare their food a certain way, cannot eat certain foods (like pork), and cannot mix certain foods together (like dairy and meat together). Many Jewish holidays also have certain dietary changes in which the Jewish patient may need to eat a certain food, or they may have to fast from sundown-to-sundown. Furthermore, some Jewish people believe in modesty, so these patients may want to be treated by a health care provider of the same sex. Lastly, if a Jewish patient passes away, the family might follow the tradition that there should be a quick burial soon and that there should not be an autopsy. The family might also want the deceased patient to always be accompanied by a family member in the hospital and even near the morgue so that they may pray and read psalms.

            The cultural practices and beliefs for Russians are an important factor to consider as well. Russians believe that people can have good health by dressing warmly, avoiding stress, and staying nourished (Health Care Chaplaincy, 2013). Russian people may turn to folk medicine or remedies before going to a doctor. These remedies include using herbs, eating chicken soup, spiritual healing, homeopathy, eating an abundance of vegetables, eating raw garlic or onions, drinking milk with butter, and staying warm. Like Polish people, some Russians may exhibit stoicism to pain and may not ask for pain medication. Russians may even tend to self-diagnose themselves before they go to a doctor. If the illness or pain is serious, Russians will seek medical advice from a doctor. Some Russian people may believe that the doctor is the ultimate authority, so it may be important for the doctor to introduce the patient to the rest of the health care team. Ultimately, Russians turn to home remedies first, but will see a health care provider if their health is seriously at risk.

 

Conclusion

            Cultural, ethnic, and religious beliefs, traditions, and practices are an important part of health as delineated by the information in this paper. Tools like the Heritage Assessment Tool can help nurses and other health care providers to determine what cultures, ethnicities, and religions they must be aware of when providing the best patient care. However, health care providers must also be aware that not every person of the same cultural or religious background follow all the same exact traditions, so it is important for the health care providers to ask the patients which beliefs or practices they follow. Nurses or health care providers with cultural competence or an awareness of different cultures and religions will help the patient feel comfortable with their health care. The patient will more likely be compliant and will want to participate in improving his or her health.

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