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Advancing equity through culturally-competent communication

May 7, 2015

For many newcomers to Canada, obtaining necessary health and social services can be a daunting task. They may be unaware of available services and how to obtain them. They may also not completely understand their health care provider or be comfortable with the way services are delivered.  New Canadians face a number of barriers including language barriers, economic barriers (i.e. transportation, child care costs, lack of extended health care coverage, and inability to take time off work) as well as systemic barriers (i.e. hours of operation and lack of support from family members). Additionally, many newcomers have experienced a variety of social issues, such as environmental hardship and political persecution.

Cultural competency in communication is a significant way in which clinicians can help support newcomers to Canada, as well as effectively provide care to Canada’s growing ethnically and culturally diverse population. Culture is often described as the combination of knowledge, beliefs and behavior. It includes a sense of personal identity, common language, perspectives, communications, customs, values, and institutions that are often specific to ethnic, racial, religious, geographic, or social groups. However, it is important to note that even within certain groups, differences exist.

CMHA Halton’s Shadya Marshad delivered an interactive presentation to CMHA conference delegates on the meaning of cultural competence and how clinicians’ world views shape their interactions with clients. She explored various paradigms that inform culturally sensitive client-clinician interactions, and discussed the benefits and limitations of each paradigm.

Culturally competent communication can help to reduce health disparities, improve access to care, and ensure that health care is respectful and responsive to the needs of diverse clients.

Marshad’s presentation outlined how culturally competent communication enables clinicians to respond to individuals in a way that values their diversity. Clients are able to understand the clinician and feel satisfied with the care provided.  Culturally competent communication can help to reduce health disparities, improve access to care, and ensure that health care is respectful and responsive to the needs of diverse clients.

In summary, Marshad advocated for client-centered care, where clinicians have the capacity to work across multiple paradigms to meet the needs of their clients. She pointed out that clinicians need to be aware of cultural differences and similarities, without assigning values to those cultural differences, spoke of the importance of language and effective interpreters as a means of facilitating culturally competent communication. Marshad recommended an open-minded approach, where clinicians ask their clients about their beliefs, values and practices and how they view illness and health, so that each interaction and approach is tailored to the unique needs of the client. Her dynamic presentation resulted in an engaging group dialogue around culturally competent communication.

Following Marshad’s presentation, Jason Cortvriendt and Melissa Calder of CMHA Kenora presented an example of how they use culturally competent communication to address the needs of First Nations communities. Within their district, there are approximately 63 First Nations Communities that they support. They discussed the strengths and limitations of providing services to these isolated communities through the Ontario Telemedicine Network and Personal Computer Conferencing Systems. Through a fun hands-on activity and group discussion, participants explored the challenges of communicating across different cultures, when resource constraints provided an additional barrier.

For more information about each branch, visit the CMHA Halton and the CMHA Kenora websites.

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