Essential Skills for Clinicians Working in Diverse Environments

by
Upasana Sharma
August 5, 2021

Diversity is important, in every walk of life, more so important in healthcare. Clinicians interact with people with diverse backgrounds, race, gender, language and more, on the daily. If you are a clinician already working in the field or gearing up to join the workforce, it is imperative to understand the part you can play in making your current or potential workspace, a more healthy, diverse and inclusive environment. Here are 4 essential skills for clinicians working in diverse environments.

Being Aware of Diversity

Every change or awareness starts with introspection. Pause for a second and ponder over what diversity means to you; it could be race, gender or even religion. However, diversity is a wider concept that encompasses a range of attributes. Diversity can be of many types, and a modern healthcare professional must be mindful of the following types essentially:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Age and generation
  • Gender and gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Language
  • Religious and spiritual beliefs
  • Disability
  • Socioeconomic background and status

Understanding and addressing all types of diversity can make you respectful and mindful of your patients’ perspectives and empathize better with them. As a result, patients are more likely to open up to you about their health challenges and take medical advice seriously. Several research papers have also highlighted the significance of establishing instant rapport in enhancing treatment outcomes.

Understanding Diversity vs. Inclusion

Once you have a clear picture of diversity, it is time to understand the other aspect of the equation - Inclusion. It is said that diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice. There have been many different studies on the importance of inclusion. A Harvard Business Review says that diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion. How can you make efforts to be inclusive in your career as a clinician?

  • Talk carefully; avoid using gender-specific words when addressing a patient or a group. Especially when you aren’t sure if the group has a presence of gender non-conforming or mixed-gender individuals.
  • Respect your patients, be sensitive, attentive and avoid over-talking, interrupting and over-explaining yourself.
  • Ask about the pronouns a patient uses. If you are interacting with someone whose preferred pronouns you aren’t sure of, ask! It only shows you care and are mindful.
  • Keep a check on your facial expressions and body language. Reacting immediately to a point of view that you may not agree with, may make the speaker uncomfortable. Try remaining neutral and express your opinion in a way that continues the discussion rather than stops it.

Being Aware of Privileges

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others and to understand what the other person is experiencing. The significance of this behavioural skill in a clinical setting can never be understated. Extend empathy to understand what in the person’s background makes them different. When you ask your patients questions about their symptoms, also take into consideration their ethnicity, socio-economic status and all the other aspects that could determine or affect their decision to seek care.

An article published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM) states that “The empathetic relationship of the health professionals with their health care users reinforces their cooperation towards designing a therapeutic plan and a tailor-made intervention, increasing thus the patient’s satisfaction from the therapeutic process”.

Being aware of your privilege is a crucial step in adopting a more inclusive attitude. Privileges can be institutional, personal, societal, physical, political, or more, and operate through different levels, situations and forms. While they are not created on a personal level, they are often perpetuated by systems and accepted norms. As a clinician, nurse or healthcare worker, you must analyse the privilege you enjoy in the world and acknowledge where you stand.

Acknowledging Personal Bias and Challenging Stereotypes

Everyone has certain biases, sub-conscious mostly, that they rely upon when meeting with strangers, which, in the life of clinicians, nurses and healthcare workers, is almost, every day. Understanding these biases is a very important step in being a more inclusive person. A few ways in which you can avoid bringing these assumptions to your daily interaction with patients are:

  • Do not assume a patient’s sexual orientation, ethnic origin, level of education and information by their appearance or name or any of the outward identity marks.
  • Prefer using words like partner to be more inclusive, instead of girlfriend/wife and boyfriend/husband.
  • Do not assume a person to be healthy or impaired just by looking at them. Disability can be invisible too!
  • Do not assume familial relationships. If a group of people come in for a medical consultation together, do not assume them to be a couple. You can always ask.

Functioning and succeeding in this highly non-binary world requires introspection at every step, and these essential skills for clinicians working in diverse environments can go a long way in helping them establish a healthy work culture. And as it is said, change always starts with us!

We at DirectShifts, are pro-diversity and believe that every healthcare recruiter should focus on diversity and inclusion. The benefits are far-reaching with improvement in team morale and engagement, better innovation and decision making, all resulting in better patient care and healthcare delivery. We are also proud to partner with brands that are pro-diversity and inclusive. Sign-up here to apply for several clinician jobs with like-minded healthcare employers.

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