Living and practicing cultural competence in nursing

Christy Cooper was one of eight students who went to Cameroon for Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College’s first international immersion program. She shares with us what she’s learned.

“It was simply incredible traveling to such a different place than the United States and sharing knowledge that just might save some lives. Of course there were a few mutual communication challenges which stemmed from heavy accents, slang terms and cultural norms. However, those communication problems were inconsequential – ultimately we were able to overcome those negligible barriers and complete the task by maintaining an open mind and acting in a respectful and culturally competent manner.

Although I have interacted with people from other cultures and countries before, I have mostly done so in a situation where I was the native and the people from other cultures and countries were the minority (for example, interacting with a European in America). On the trip to Cameroon, the situation was reversed and it was really eye-opening. I found that in order to get the most out of an interaction with someone from another culture, it is important to remember that one can only become a better version of himself by opening his mind to another way of life. There is no such thing as the right way to live, and the world would be an awfully uninteresting place if everyone was the same. By being willing to learn about another culture, one is validating the other person’s worth and recognizing his wonderful individuality.

I can state with 100% certainty that I will be a better nurse because of my experience in Cameroon.  It’s so easy to read in a textbook about cultural competence and being respectful and open to other ways of life, but it’s so important to not just read about it but to live it and to practice it. Our country is becoming more diverse all the time, and it is important for nurses to be aware of other cultures in order to provide the best care possible.

The most rewarding thing about the Cameroon experience was the awareness I have gained for how fortunate I am to live in America. I could not believe how little the Cameroonians have, but yet they were the happiest people I have ever met. The Cameroonians really knew how to enjoy life – many of them didn’t even have a bed to sleep in at night or more than one outfit, but they were much more content and emotionally balanced than the average American.

The peer teaching was by far my favorite part of the trip. The beaches and the cultural excursions were absolutely lovely, but the most rewarding part was getting to interact with nursing students in another culture.”

- Christy Cooper, Accelerated BSN ’11
Cardiothoracic ICU staff nurse, Barnes-Jewish Hospital

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