Narratives and Newcomers: Rethinking Culturally Appropriate Health Care

Nexus 14 (1):21-30 (2000)

Cultural appropriateness has become an important conceptual tool for health care professionals serving diverse patient populations. Physicians and other health care providers working in urban communities are increasingly challenged to provide care that is responsive to the health needs and beliefs of immigrants, refugees and other newcomers to mainstream health services. This paper argues that notions of cultural 'sensitivity' or 'competency' help health practitioners acknowledge professional and biomedical biases, but also risk dehistoricizing and hence disempowering newcomers by failing to recognize culture as a dynamic process. Without attention to the ways in which newcomers actively produce culture and make sense of illness experience, health care workers ignore the contexts in which people. become ill and hence cannot act as healers. By presenting the case of one newcomer to the Canadian health care system, I argue that narratives provide a valuable tool for health practitioners to understand how newcomers actively engage and come to terms with illness, without defining them as determined by a set of cultural beliefs or practices.
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