Before nurses are engaged to the workplace, university prepares them to be clinically, professionally, legally and culturally ready. Cultural awareness plays a major part in curriculum. How to deal with people with diverse backgrounds, which gestures to avoid, which words to use and so on are some of the major focuses of the subject. By the end of university training, students are expected to enter the workforce as culturally sensitive nurses who advocate for their patients.
However, unlike nurses, patients do not take cultural awareness courses before they enter the hospital – not even a crash course or an orientation that nurses now compose of different colours from white to black to yellow or fair. Some patients would refuse care from nurses differently coloured. Some would make nurses feel that they are inadequate because of where they came from. Some would blatantly verbalize that coloured nurses taking care of them do not know a knack of English language. Some would question nurses’ educational background.
How do I know these things? It is because I am one of the coloured nurses working in an Australian hospital. I am fair skinned. I have small almond brown eyes. I have a short stature. I have not completely adapted the accent from how I speak. At times, I didn’t only feel I was inadequate as a nurse. I felt I was inadequate as a person. I felt like my small but meaningful victories as a nurse before in my own country got thrown out the window. Times like those I just wanted to curl up on my own bed all day, sulk and not show up at work.
Going to work and knowing that you are to take care, offer support and be an advocate to a patient who looks down on you is not easy. Sometimes, it feels degrading. However, I do my best everyday to go to work, smile even with the knowing eyes and take care of them even if they refuse, insult or question my ability. It is not without effort and it is not definitely possible without my God who I pray to everyday to give me strength, courage and wisdom. One year and seven months later since I have started, He has never failed me.
I have not become a nurse only to render care to patients I like or patients who are friendly. Nevertheless, I have taken the Florence Nightingale Oath remembering clearly the last line:
… and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.
When nursing, it is not my own welfare I am looking after, nor the money that comes into my pay check. Rather, it is the good and being of my patients under my care. I am the one who took the oath and who studied cultural awareness so as a person, I should be the one to rise higher, understand and give way. It’s not tolerating the behaviour and letting it stand. I had people throw things at me to get me out of the room. I do tell the patient that it is inappropriate. As much as I do not want to mind or feel the hurt of being discriminated, it does linger for a while. But the forgiving heart of my Father God gives me the same forgiveness I feel for those who has wronged me.
I do hope that a way can be made so that foreign nurses will no longer have to experience such hurt. All the work dramas is enough emotionally; more than enough to bring home from work. Like what a friend of mine from work said, “After work, you shake of all the bad vibes each staircase you go down to. By the time you reach the door, you’ve left it all and you go home without a burden.” Sometimes, as nurses, all we really need to do is focus on the positive of our jobs such as moments when you have made a difference in someone’s life, or have held their hand when they are scared and anxious, or when you have stayed over a room for an extra five minutes to comfort them, or rare but treasured times when patient sends over a thank you card.
Admit it or not, the staff we work with at the hospital becomes our family after a while. We spend eight hours a day for five days a week with these people. I guess we cannot control how some patients would feel about a nurse’s cultural background but what we can do is support each other as nurses and friends in the allied health team to give comfort, companionship, camaraderie, fun and joy with each other. As there may not really be a cure to racism or discrimination, there are always supplements of genuine care, love and tenderness to keep our spirits strong. With such, all the hurts, angst and negativity is blown away.
• Madeline Anne Sta Cruz RN
I am 24 years old and a Registered Nurse from the Philippines and have worked as an Emergency Department and Trauma Unit Nurse for a year and a Theatre Nurse for another. I have completed a transition program to be a Registered Nurse here in Australia. I started working as an RN in a General Surgical Ward in The Townsville Hospital, QLD last July 2010.
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