Culture shock and the healthcare profession Essay

Culture Shock and the Healthcare Profession

Introduction: Culture Shock and Health

            Culture shock is defined as an experience which involves the sudden immersion of an individual in an unfamiliar setting or culture. It is a very personal experience and it often gives the individual a feeling of uncertainty as he or she is not fully aware of what is expected of him or her; apart from this, the individual is also unaware of what he or she should expect from the people within the culture he or she is immersed in (Hofstede, Pedersen, and Hofstede 2002: 22).

            Culture shock can occur in any given situation wherein an individual has to adjust to a social system which is unfamiliar to him or her. When one experiences culture shock, one experiences the feeling that one does not know anything and previous knowledge do not apply to his or her current situation in the culture he or she is immersed in. It is necessary to state that culture shock does not only happen when one has to go to a different country—it can also occur when one is in a new school, community, organization, and even when interacting with different families (Hofstede, Pedersen, and Hofstede 2002: 22).

            Culture shock can occur in various situations; in fact, it can even occur in the health care profession. This phenomenon can occur on both the health-care professional and his or her patient, because both of them are exposed to each others’ different cultures; while the health-care professionals are immersed in the culture of their patients, their patients are also immersed in the health-care professionals’ culture (Pera and Tonder 2005: 171).

            Culture shock may vary in degrees, such as when the water from the new setting may seem to taste different or strange to the individual to inability of speaking the local language, but in general, culture shock is often “accompanied by feelings of alienation and homesickness and temporary dislike of the host culture” (Pera and Tonder 2005: 171).

If such is the case, culture shock can become an obstacle in the health-care profession for the “sudden transition from a familiar to an unfamiliar environment” (Pera and Tonder 2005: 171) can hinder the health-related goals of the healthcare professional. Culture shock can prevent a healthcare professional from providing the necessary healthcare to his or her patients because he or she confused with how he or she should act towards his or her patient from a different culture.

Culture Shock and Crossing the Line (600 words)

            Crossing the Line is directed by Kaye Harrison and it deals with the eight-week placement of two Tasmanian medical students in an “Indigenous community on Mornington Island in north-west Queensland” (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010) and the significant role which culture shock plays in their learning experience. Amy and Paul are two medical students who were given training in order to prepare them for the real world; the pre-placement training which they were provided were supposed to cover different issues regarding society, economics, and health on the Island (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010).

            In their pre-placement training, Amy and Paul discover that there is more to the health-care industry than just taking care of sick people—they also had to deal with the problems and issues which the Indigenous people had. Amy and Paul experience culture shock, for unlike their training, they find that is impossible to maintain professional distance when in the field. They realize that it is necessary to cross the line in order to be able to help the Indigenous people in north-west Queensland (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010).

It is, of course, necessary to state that Amy’s and Paul’s culture is very different from the culture of the individuals whom they wish to serve, and in order for them to be able to help these Indigenous people, they have to be able to understand their culture and their lives. The needs of the people go beyond health-related issues, and Amy and Paul felt that if they want to be able to help these people and their community with their health-related problems, they need to be able to establish trust, which means that they have to establish relationships with these individuals. They also experienced culture shock when they discovered various social problems within the community of the Indigenous people. As Amy and Paul find themselves immersed in the problems of the community, they understood why the people have dysfunctional lives and why there is an aura of suicide about the community (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010).

            According to Pera and Tonder (2005: 172), a lot of healthcare professionals proceed with the attitude that they know everything which needs to be known, without trying to understand the point of view of their patients. They tend to perceive that since they know what is for the best, they tend to leave out the patient in the decision-making process.

What Amy and Paul are trying to do is understand the point of view of the Indigenous people; through understanding their culture and their lives, they would be able to render service to these people appropriately. Apart from this, it was not only Amy and Paul who experienced culture shock in the situation, but also the Indigenous people in the community who may have felt a certain degree of mistrust towards Amy and Paul who just suddenly came into their lives.

            It may be possible that patients may be angry or dissatisfied with the healthcare professionals for they are acting out of culture shock; in fact, patients may even refuse to cooperate (Pera and Tonder 2005: 172). Therefore, Amy’s and Paul’s actions were a means to establish trust and confidence amongst the Indigenous people, for in order to be able to help them, they first have to understand their culture and their problems. As they try to learn about these people, Amy and Paul eventually come to understand that in the process of helping these people with their healthcare needs, it cannot be avoided that such also means helping them with their social and psychological needs (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010).

Culture Shock and Critical Reflection as a Health Professional (500 words)

            As a health professional, it is, of course, necessary to ensure that one is emotionally detached from his or her patients. Being emotionally attached means maintaining professional distance, for it cannot be avoided that if one is emotionally attached to another individual, one’s choices may be affected by that attachment. It is often stated that in order to create the proper decisions and choices, one must be pragmatic and impartial; however, if one is emotionally attached, decisions may become prejudiced or unfair which poses a big problem.

            However, while it is necessary to maintain one’s professional distance, it must be understood that in the case of culture shock, the only way to overcome it is to facilitate understanding, and understanding cannot begin unless one is willing to establish a form of relationship with one’s patients.

In Crossing the Line, it could be seen that Amy’s and Paul’s supervisors felt strongly against their decision to immerse themselves in the problems of the community (O’Kelly and Kennedy c. 2010), however, Amy’s and Paul’s decision had been appropriate in their situation, for they needed to establish trust and understanding in order to overcome their culture shock and be able to do help the Indigenous people.

If Amy and Paul were not able to overcome their culture shock, they would have never understood how their patients perceive things and would have never established trust, which would make it difficult for them to help and treat the Indigenous people in the first place. By being able to understand their patients, Amy and Paul were able to pinpoint exactly what they needed in order to help them.

            It is, however, debatable as to how much emotional involvement was necessary in order to overcome culture shock. In Amy’s and Paul’s case, there is no question that they had to let go of their professional distance in order to be able to understand the people and their problems in order to overcome their culture shock, but there is a need to understand that emotional attachment should be controlled if one is to maintain a degree of professionalism in one’s work.

            While culture shock may prevent a healthcare professional from providing his or her patients with the appropriate healthcare, this does not necessarily mean that the healthcare professional should fully immerse him or herself in the culture and forget his or her original purpose. While it is necessary to overcome culture shock by understanding the problems of a community, a healthcare professional’s primary job is to provide healthcare and such cannot be done if he or she is not objective.

 Therefore, there is a need to establish a demarcation line as to how much emotional involvement is necessary in order for a healthcare professional to understand the culture of a community and overcome culture shock; by doing so, a health care professional can understand where his or her patients are coming from and at the same time, be able to do his or her job as objectively as possible.

List of References

Hofstede, G.J., Pedersen, P., and Hofstede, G.H. (2002). Exploring Culture: Exercises, Stories, and Synthetic Cultures. Maine: Intercultural Press, Inc.

O’Kelly, C. and Kennedy, T. (c. 2010). Crossing the Line: Study Guide [online] available from <> [accessed 24 Aug. 2010].

Pera, S.A. and Tonder, S.V. (2005) 2nd edn. Ethics in Healthcare. Landsowne: Juta and Company Ltd.