The work of a health care worker involves interaction with people and patients from diverse cultural backgrounds (Gehlert and Browne, 2011). As for a health care worker of Cuban origin, it is a challenge for me to provide care to a Mexican patient due to differences in cultural norms, specifically in relation to matters of health. As a result, I have interviewed a health care worker of Mexican origin who was educated and brought up in Mexico as discussed below.
According to the Mexican health care worker interviewed, the cultural norms of native Mexicans are influenced by family and social structures, religion, language, traditional health beliefs, social economic status and health care-seeking behaviour. From the interview, it is clear that family and social support play a big role in regard to health care. Although an entire family may influence health care-seeking decision, it is the man – as the head of family – who should give the final decision. In addition, Mexicans prefer social and family support over medical services in health matters related to pregnant women, the elderly, and persons recovering from various illnesses, among the others. Religion is also closely related to family; with majority of Mexicans being Catholics, their religious views influence their response to health care. They also like communication to be done at a family level rather than on an individual one. Moreover, Mexicans have strong traditional beliefs on causes and cure of various illnesses. They strongly believe that health is a sign of good luck while illness results from bad luck, natural or supernatural causes;. For instance, bad eye is believed to be caused by looking at another person jealously or admirably, while mental illness is a consequence of imbalance between a person and the environment. Normally, treatment of illnesses is based on traditional remedies (such as the use of herbs) and social support (family and close relatives).
Close family ties may hinder a health care worker to offer his/her services effectively. Normally, health care profession requires confidentiality. However, Mexicans prefer discussions about health to be done in presence of family members, which is a breach of code of ethics for a health care worker. Additionally, communication styles may be problematic in relation to non-verbal cues. For instance, Mexicans may respond negatively to touching by a health care worker as this is normally allowed only for close family members and friends. Moreover, it may be difficult for health care worker to propose traditional treatment, as alternative medicine is preferred. For instance, they believe that treatment of cold is taking hot food or some herbs; thus, they may not follow health care worker’s advice to take appropriate medication. They first try home remedies, such as drinking herbal and spiced tea, before seeking for a help from a herbalist or a holistic healer if the condition worsens.
Despite these deep-rooted cultural beliefs, the health care worker interviewed has acculturated in the US through various influences including language, social-economic factors, and interaction with US society. The interviewee has complemented her Spanish language with English, allowing her to gather as much information as possible on US cultural practices. In addition, her interaction with US community members has changed her lifestyle and perceptions from traditional Mexican to more liberal.
The interviewee suggested various ways of giving care to Mexicans. First, it is important to understand that cultural knowledge is a strength. For instance, a health care worker needs to understand the importance of family to Mexicans and, as such, communicate to both the patient and his/her family members with the patient’s permission. Moreover, a health care worker should desist from using non-verbal cues to avoid miscommunication. It is also important to first establish a rapport with a persona and his/her family as Mexicans tend to trust a close friend or a relative. Because of a language barrier, it is important to be bilingual or at least understand Spanish in order to effectively communicate with the patients. Understanding that Mexicans may delay seeking for treatment as they prioritize on traditional remedies, it is important to disseminate appropriate information on the importance of medical health care access. Moreover, during examination, it is important to seek patient’s permission before making any physical contact.
Gehlert, S. and Browne, T. (2011). Handbook of Health Social Work. NY: John Wiley & Sons.