The ability to communicate effectively and understand cultural differences is crucial to delivering high-quality health care. Jennifer Volberding, Ph.D., athletic training program director and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, is researching ways to educate health care professionals about cultural communication to improve responsiveness to patient needs.
“We want to ensure that every person, regardless of background, is provided the best care possible and that clinicians are prepared to take the cultural intricacies of an individual into consideration when making a health care decision,” she said. “We want to identify tools students in health care programs can use to be successful practitioners in addition to hands-on clinical and evaluation skills.”
Learning about other cultures will provide health care professionals the information necessary to effectively communicate with patients and determine appropriate treatment, Volberding noted. Emotional intelligence also is required, particularly with patients in stressful situations.
Emotional intelligence is the ability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions and use that information to guide thinking and behavior, she said.
“Health care professionals need to know how to moderate their stress levels, uncertainty and excitement while taking into consideration a patient’s pain and emotions,” she said. “Clinicians must remain calm, cool and collected, but also empathetic with their patient.”
Volberding also is exploring how cultural differences affect the way clinicians make health care decisions and how those decisions affect patients’ perceptions of their clinician.
“We want to know how race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation impact the type of health care being delivered,” she said. “Does a patient feel that their health care provider took their cultural background into account when they made a health care decision? That knowledge is essential to providing exceptional health care.”
Volberding’s ultimate goal is to incorporate cultural competence and communications skills into university curriculum so that students can make better health care decisions as professionals.
“Our desire is to produce students who have the skills necessary to provide the best holistic and most well-rounded health care possible,” she said.