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The Role of Cultural Awareness in Pharmacist Profession

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As a pharmacist, it will be my duty to have an understanding of my clientele. In order to do so, I will need to utilize my own experiences, as well as, the knowledge and information that I gain from my education. When making decisions, I must understand how each person makes his/her health care choices; a large part of those decisions must include the cultural ideals of those I will serve. To be well rounded, it is of the utmost importance that I have the knowledge of drugs, but also of the people I will encounter on a daily basis. Coming from a relatively small area, it is easy to forget about the multitude of cultures that exist and are around us every day and we must be made aware of them as well as our own.

According to Kelly J. Clark, author of “Achieving Cultural Competency and Its Role in Pharmacy”, “…the US population is ever changing…. ”. A common problem that may cause barriers and a lack of communication among different cultures is the lack of understanding of the terms cultures or ethnicities. According to pharmacists O’Connell, Korner, Rickles and Sias, “…most people equate culture with race or ethnicity; it also includes age, gender, disability, religion, socioeconomics, sexual orientation and health beliefs. Thus, a person has many cultures that define who he or she is. Many of these cultural beliefs influence a patient’s health beliefs.

It is my belief that in order to understand the differences of various cultures, I must first look at myself. Who am I? What have I been exposed to? What experiences can I draw from to provide me with insight? My English teacher often said that authors write about what they know and that it is always important to read the brief biographies provided before reading the story. The same is true for various cultures. My entire family is Appalachian. I was born in Charlotte, NC and moved to Grinnell, IA; then, to Ada, Ohio and finally back to Glenville, WV. Glenville is small and secluded. It is easy to be sheltered from the rest of the world there. In my family, education played a large role in my upbringing. My paternal grandfather was a college professor of 40 plus years, my father is a college professor and my mother is a teacher. However, I was taught to respect all professions. My mother would always say that the world would be a rotten place without the men who work hard to collect our garbage, and they should be seen just as important to society as the any other profession. I grew up on and around college campuses and therefore was exposed to a variety of ethnicities and people in general. My parents made sure that I was exposed to various cultures and viewed them with an open mind. They took me to Washington, DC to art galleries and museums. We traveled to New Orleans to experience the deep southern culture, phenomenal Cajun cooking and zydeco music. We traveled to the Amish country and the list goes on. I am able to draw from these experiences to provide me with information about other cultures. However, these experiences also show me that there are numerous other cultures that I have not experienced. Armed with this knowledge, I am more aware of how much I need to continue to educate myself.

I am very proud to say that growing up, my parents put a big emphasis on the fact that everyone is equal. No matter your race, sexuality, religious beliefs, or background you are a person to be treated with respect and compassion. My parents played the most important role in my life concerning how I see those that are different than me. I am very open minded when it comes to different cultures and beliefs and I’m glad that it has shaped me into the person I am today. A part of varying cultures is their personal beliefs about healthcare. According to pharmacist Betsy Sleath, author of “Becoming a Culturally Competent Pharmacist”, “There is evidence that 1 of 3 Americans uses alternative therapies, yet very few patients tell their health care providers. Therefore, pharmacists should be open to different ways of thinking about health, illness, and treatment. Clark provides ideas to improve cultural competency.

  • Immerse self in a community you would like to learn more about
  • Work with culturally/ethically organized student groups, patient group
  • Read about culture-specific disease states and evidence-based intervention and practice
  • Host a brown bag event focused on cultural competency by inviting a speaker or panel of speakers to discuss methodology and cultural beliefs
  • Reach out to religious leaders or organizations
  • Seek out traditional cultural healers
  • Talk with patients from diverse backgrounds in your community
  • Continue to learn: lifelong process/requires ongoing continuing education utilizing multiple modalities.

A book titled The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman tells the story of a young Hmong girl diagnosed with Epilepsy at a young age; as a result of a “…lack of cross cultural communication in the medical profession…”, the girl suffers a tragic death. There were language barriers and a total breakdown between the healthcare team and the child’s family. The family had their own set of culturalistic medical practices that were not understood by doctors etc. For these reasons, communication (both verbal and non-verbal) is essential. I have been in situations where a language barrier has been a problem. From my own experiences, I know how easy it is for misunderstandings to occur. According to Zweber, as a pharmacist, “Paying attention to the ‘language’ we use when speaking with patients is a first step to bridging communication barriers. ” The same is true for non-verbal communication. A nod of the head or shrug of the shoulders when speaking to a patient could signal different meanings. Cultural competence in pharmacy is a necessity to provide the appropriate treatment for all individuals. In order to achieve this goal, one must acquire the knowledge through education and awareness. One definition describes it as being “able to recognize differences, identify similar patterns of responses, avoid stereotyping by acknowledging variations, and balance his or her own caring actions by recognizing differences and avoiding stereotyping”.

As a pharmacist, I must continue to educate myself. Learning about different cultural groups is an ongoing process. Breaking down cultural barriers will only improve the quality of care that I provide. As a result of bridging these gaps, I will be able build important and trustworthy relationships with my patients. I wrote earlier about a statement my English teacher made. People write about what they know. How can I profess to help individuals if I am practicing what I don’t know? The United States is a melting pot of cultures from all lifestyles. It is my responsibility as a human being to understand and relate to them.

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