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Cultural Intelligence in Healthcare

How cultural diversity can influence our behaviour

Rauf Mirza, Director Bluestone TMS | 12th February 2016

Delivering real patient centred services

Much has been written about cultural diversity in society and in the workplace and its importance in organisations. Usually these focus on valuing diversity of people, and having the slogans, mission statements and posters everywhere around the building to show that we promote diversity. But what does this really mean in practice and what’s the real benefit in being a culturally diverse and competent individual and/or organisation?

We all know of IQ (Intelligent Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient) but a new additional way to develop one’s skills in communication, developing relationships, influencing, and managing in diverse situations, means we must also add CQ (Cultural Quotient) to our mix of skills as well.

This means that we not only need to be mentally intelligent to assess situations and solve problems and to be conscious of our social /emotional abilities in dealing with people, but we must also know how to recognise people’s cultural backgrounds, norms, behaviours and expectations. After, all, people are not homogeneous one dimensional blocks - they exhibit colour, languages, opinions, exercise faith based/culturally embedded actions and behaviours, etc., which are all presented to us in the forms of a different name, appearance, dress, language, colour, heritage, and a way of responding to people and situations that may be different to ours.

All this means that we need to recognise that cultural diversity is important and dictates how people behave and act.

Cultural Intelligence equips us with the knowledge and skills to be able to recognise and respond to such culturally diverse people and situations. The end result is a culturally appropriate, relevant, harmonious, intelligent and successful communication and relationship. In short, we connect intelligently with the interests of the other person and not impose ours on them. This results in us getting attention, co-operation, rapport and hopefully a better outcome in our interactions.

In a more globalised, inter-connected world, cultural intelligence has become an essential skill rather than an optional extra. especially for leaders whose pre-requisite to good leadership is to understand people. Therefore, to embrace different cultures, we have to first understand them.

How do we apply cultural intelligence to Healthcare? 

Let’s take medicine and patient care.

Patient centred services are talked about as a mantra for all in the NHS to suggest we must put the patient and their needs first. However, if we do not recognise the diversity of patients and the diversity of their needs/issues and behaviours, then we end up with a standardised ‘one size fits all’ approach - more organisation centred rather than patient centred.

About 10-12% of the UK population is from an ethnic/ non-white background, and in some cities like London, Birmingham and Leicester this can rise to near 40-45%. Imagine if nearly half of your patients were of a culturally diverse background. About 10-12% of the UK population is from an ethnic/ non-white background, and in some cities like London, Birmingham and Leicester this can rise to near 40-45%. Imagine if nearly half of your patients were of a culturally diverse background.

For anyone delivering health services and engaging with patients, here are just a few of the cultural challenges they may well face:

All of these cultural factors can have an influence on recruiting and retaining patients for clinical trials.

For professionals in the health care setting, awareness of personal cultural biases is a prerequisite for cross-cultural competence. The competent professional cultivates a non-judgmental attitude of respect, interest, and inquiry. From this viewpoint, the cross-cultural encounter is approached as an opportunity for learning and growth.

Effective training can help individual healthcare professionals and organisations to be become culturally intelligent and competent so that real patient centred services are provided and better outcomes are achieved for the patient and health service provider. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “To Change the World we first need to change ourselves”.

Rauf Mirza, Director Bluestone TMS.  Bluestone provides comprehensive and practical and effective Cultural Intelligence training, utilising extensive experience in healthcare, marketing, management and community engagement. For more information contact Rauf on Email:  or mobile: 07976 191 645.

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