9 tips for a culturally competent environment for Aboriginal patients

February 21, 2013


medical icon
Bob Joseph
Fixing the way in which healthcare is delivered to Aboriginal People is a massive, complex undertaking on the national scale. However, on the smaller scale, simple things can be done at the first point of contact, and throughout the care organization that will make a world of difference to not only the Aboriginal patient but also to the health care practitioners. The first step in fixing the system is to create a culturally competent environment for Aboriginal patients.

9 simple things health care practitioners can do to create a culturally competent environment:

#1 Get to know the Aboriginal culture(s) in the intake region; the cookie cutter viewpoint will not work. No two First Nations are the same; First Nations, Metis and Inuit people have unique cultures and influences.

#2 Take the time to become familiar with the protocol, social structure, and social nuances of the communities and people within the intake region. In some cultures, direct questions coupled with eye contact would neither be welcomed nor considered acceptable.

#3 Health care practitioners are considered authority figures so keep in mind the historical relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and authority - the legacy of residential schools is frequently the “elephant in the room”.

#4 Relating back to the “authority” issue - some Aboriginal patients might feel hesitant to ask questions - don’t assume that if they answer “no” to the question “do you have any questions?” that what you have said is fully understood.

#5 Understand that traditional healing practices are very much part of most Aboriginal cultures. Asking the patient about traditional healing practices not only opens a door of respect and communication, but signals that traditional practices are acknowledged and respected.

#6 Do not take a top down approach to a course of action - try instead to involve the patient by asking for their input.

#7 Your timeline and schedule should not dominate appointments with Aboriginal patients.

#8 Do an honest self-analysis of your views - do you secretly harbour stereotypical images and view points?

#9 Consider taking a cross cultural awareness course. Understanding the history, influences, protocols, challenges and issues will provide the confidence and knowledge to create a culturally competent environment.

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