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Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness


Health institutions are struggling to provide transcultural nursing that acknowledges differences and similarities that exist among cultures and which recognizes that people’s cultural practices, beliefs as well as values influence their health care, nursing and treatment. Transcultural nursing help health care providers provide health care that is culturally specific (Felemban, 2010). This implies that those involved in health care in health institutions should understand and apply diverse cultural nursing care to patients.

Heritage Assessment

Many health and illness beliefs have their origins in the cultures, religions as well as social backgrounds of families and communities (Spector, 2009). The use of traditional nursing care is not unique to certain cultures alone but is found across many cultures worldwide. These remedies have been passed down along the generational lines. Health disparities exist in our societies and have an impact on the health care services that we receive. According to the Washington State Department of Health (2010), there exists biasness and stereotyping in the provision of health along racial and ethical lines. Providing multicultural health services is a serious challenge in the US. Cultural practices, beliefs as well as values determine the receptiveness of a patient in the current American health practices (Spector, 2009).

Common Health Traditions

Culturally, it is commonly believed that certain food substances can help in preventing some illnesses if ingested. Specific vegetable foods, raw garlic, paper and onions are used as traditional medicine for both curative and preventive health care. It is also believed that the human body is better maintained by balancing the food that we eat and therefore families which are economically stable take into consideration the concept of a balanced diet. Plant roots, seeds and herbs are also normally used to prevent and cure illnesses.

Culture recognizes the ability of traditional healers to cure specific diseases which arise from taboos and even those which result from normal circumstances, especially by heritage-consistent persons. Traditional medicine is used in conjunction with or as a substitute for modern health care. Women also acquire nursing services from traditional nurses and healers. These people help them in giving birth and even in providing traditional expertise and medicine for child care. It is also believed that mental illnesses occur as a result of a lack of harmony in an individual’s emotions or as a result of possession by demonic spirits and therefore those who suffer from mental illness can be best treated by spiritual healers.

Differences in Health Care Traditions

Health Maintenance

Most Indian-Americans maintain their health through a proper diet that consists of a range of traditional vegetables and fruits. They eat traditional dishes which are nutritious and are also culturally accepted. The Euro-Americans, on the other hand, maintain their health by taking a nutritious balanced diet which may consist of traditional or modern foods. The Mexican-Americans consider grooming as part of their health maintenance. They also use herbal medicine to maintain their health.

Health Protection

Health Protection among the Indian-Americans usually entails the use of traditional herbs as well as specific traditional fruits and vegetables such as paper, watermelon, and raw garlic among many others. Health protection among the community also includes being at peace spiritually and this involves performing rituals, fasting among many others; done to protect the community or an individual from being infested by evil spirits. The Euro-Americans depend on modern forms of health protection such as vaccination, high-class hygiene and modern medicine. The Mexican-Americans use religious items such as rosaries for their health protection. They believe that health is controlled by God’s will, fate or the environment. Postpartum women are usually advised to wrap a special cloth (faja) around their abdomen for health protection. They use a traditional diet to prevent constipation. They also use traditional medicine to protect them from folk illnesses such as evil eye, fright, cravings among many others. They also perform spiritual ceremonies to relieve them of illness symptoms.

Health Restoration

The Indian-American community believes that illnesses are due to an imbalance between an individual’s spiritual, social, mental and physical being with his or her family or clan. Therefore their traditional healing is considered ineffective if the spiritual aspect is not taken into considerations. They use traditional health care in treating Indian problems such as pain, psychological problems, mental problems and even other sicknesses related to spirits. Their traditional healers and spiritual leaders perform traditional diagnoses and prescribe herbal and animal medicine as well as cultural foods for patients. Although they have traditional nursing homes, in most cases, their traditional health care does not provide long-term health care. Most of their long-term health care is provided by the extended family or clan. Among the Indian-Americans, family health care is mostly provided by females. Euro-Americans again rely more on modern medicine for treatment. They believe in diagnosis carried out by trained medical practitioners which are done after careful diagnosis using modern health equipment. They also believe that mental health is best cured by mental health psychologists such as psychiatrists, psychotherapists and such like professionals. Their health care providers provide for long-term health care as long as one can afford it.

In the Mexican-Americans culture, it is the women who mostly provide traditional health care. Family members also assist in the provision of traditional health, especially where the traditional health care provider is a man. The family is actively involved in caregiving and believes that self-care by the patient is likely to affect the recovery process. They usually administer herbal tea and soup to patients to quicken the recovery process.

My Family Health Practice

My family also subscribes to the traditional health practices although to a lesser degree since we have embraced modern health care for our health maintenance, protection and restoration. We use traditional foods for our health maintenance and protection and herbs for the treatment of specific minor illnesses. However, we do not believe in using folk medicine for folk illnesses.

Professional Nursing

Professional nursing involves achieving cultural competencies and understanding health disparities in the diverse populations in the provision of health care services (Spector, 2009). It involves understanding factors that might influence the delivery of health care.


Culture shapes our ability to access health care as well as our choice of health care. Therefore those involved in the provision of health care should do all that is possible to acquire cultural competency so as to provide unbiased, more effective and satisfactory health care. Health care providers need to understand that differing responses to patients’ health care needs have an influence on clinical outcomes and the patients’ choice to acquire health care needs.

Reference List

Felemban, E.M. (2010). Transcultural competency in the curricula of nursing. Melbourne: RMIT University Press.

Spector, R. E. (2009). Cultural diversity in health and illness, 7thed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Health.

Washington State Department of Health. (2010). Cultural competency in health services and care: A guide for health care providers. Washington D. C.: Washington State Department of Health.

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StudyKraken. (2022) 'Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness'. 23 March.

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