On International Nurses Day 2022, the ACN Melbourne Region facilitated a Webinar to celebrate the importance of Refugee Health and to heighten awareness to our nursing community. We were so lucky to be guided by skilled practitioners and consumers in this area – the inaugural Nurse Practitioner in Refugee Health Merrilyn Spratling FACN, the State-wide Facilitator of the Victorian Refugee Health Program Kath Desmyth and a recently-arrived refugee from Tibet to share their consumer ‘lens’.
The expertise and insight shared by our speakers was vast but the common theme was about the need for cultural competence in nursing and to consider ‘refugee health’ as a growing specialty. Success in the role of a refugee health nurse requires experience and training in community health and the ability to think critically about the needs of refugees and reflect on interventions. Refugees come from a vast array of different origins for a number of different reasons and thus require a person and culture-centred approach.
Importance of culturally competent healthcare
Culturally competent health care requires the ability and motivation to learn about varied cultural norms and expectations and recognising the vulnerability of this population especially during the transition period of culture shock and fear of persecution from governments.
Culturally safe care includes the use of professional interpreter services rather than family members to avoid misunderstandings and to strive for the best health outcomes. This is of particular importance in the contemporary healthcare context which may be rushed with limited interpreter availability.
To meet this growing need, the webinar speakers called for a more significant focus in the undergraduate nursing curriculum to prepare nurses for cultural competence, especially cultural communication skills. The key to successful outcomes is to be trauma-aware and understand the often complex backgrounds of refugees which necessitates in-depth history-taking and discussion. The holistic care of refugees needs to also take into account the need for social and community connectivity, and appropriate tools to address different levels of health literacy and education.
Cultural competence is just like any other ‘competency’ and requires the combination of knowledge, skills and behaviours, taking into account both differences in culture, removal of existing stereotypical expectations, as well as actual language.
Refugee expectations about what illness and disease actually are may also differ. In addition, the speakers highlighted that expectations may be based upon the existence of previous access to health care in their own countries and hence some refugees may be overwhelmed by the support potentially offered here in Australia. What we see as conventional healthcare and treatment practices may differ significantly from the country of refugee origin.
In reference to cultural competence, the other clear message from the webinar, although not stated openly, was the importance of having a point of reference and understanding your own cultural paradigm, particularly in terms of your own healthcare systems, before attempting to understand others.
The webinar was a huge success and significantly opened many eyes to the growing need to focus a lens on this nursing, and societal issue, particularly in the multicultural context in which we live and work, and the growing unrest globally that will ultimately lead to more refugee movement. Thank you to our great speakers and the humility and honesty of our consumer of the growing science of refugee health!
Article by Tony McGillion MACN, Erin Mercieca MACN and Amy Humme MACN from the ACN Melbourne Region Leadership Team
Learn more about the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) Regions and their CPD events here.