The Alliance

Spotlight Series

The Alliance Spotlight Series is a recurring one-page publication for front-line healthcare professionals, offering quick-takes on critical topics affecting the field of organ donation and transplantation. We encourage you to download these issues and share them with your front-line colleagues and partners.

Spotlight Series Past Issues

Exclusive Access

Take advantage of our 2023 professional partnership levels of support to receive exclusive early access to The Alliance Insight Series publications.

You’ll still have access to all our materials when they go online one month after publication.

The Alliance DEI Series V2
Utilizing the principle of Cultural Humility to promote effective communication with patients and their families.

Cultural & Religious Considerations in Caring for Patients and their Families

To avoid cultural assumptions when working with patients and their families, it is important to understand some of the basic definitions and become a student of the family to learn how to effectively communicate. These principles are applicable to any cultural interaction in healthcare.

Relevant Definitions:

Race – “…is an ancient, non-scientific, political classification of human beings and is based on physiological characteristics, such as skin color, eye shape, and texture of hair.” (Bomar, 2004)

Ethnicity – “…is a key facet of culture and refers to a common ancestry, a sense of ‘peoplehood’ and group identity. From a common ancestry and a shared social and cultural history and national origin have evolved shared values and customs.” (Friedman et al., 2003)

Culture – “Culture is defined as a specific set of social, shared, educational, religious and professional behaviors, practices and values that individuals learn and ascribe to while participating in or outside of groups with whom they typically interact.” (Bomar, 2004)


  • Race and ethnicity are different terms. People of one race can vary in their ethnicities and people who identify with the same ethnicity can meet different racial classifications.
  • Every human being has their own culture. Culture is about our values and beliefs, which are initially instilled in us, but evolve over time based on life-experiences and as the world changes.
  • It is impossible to know an individual’s culture based on their ethnicity or race. While ethnicities can have shared values and customs, individuals may not adopt, practice, or even value them.
  • It is vital to treat each human being as a unique individual who has their own set of values, beliefs, and practices.

Basic Principles:

  • Explore and understand your own culture; what is your culture and how has it evolved?
  • Avoid stereotyping.
  • Don’t communicate and act on assumptions.
  • Utilize the principle of ‘cultural humility’ instead by learning from the patient and/or their family.
  • Ask the patient and their family to teach you about their expectations and needs in relation to the care they’d like to receive.
  • Do not judge or criticize differences.
  • Don’t project your own feelings or expectations.
  • Identify the cultural decision-maker in the family and build trust with them as well as with the patient.
  • Build trust by adjusting your communication and interactions within the context of the patient’s culture.
  • Identify and meet their basic human needs.
  • Learn a few phrases or greeting in their language.
  • Ask questions to learn and adapt to their needs.

Ask Questions & Learn:

Arthur Kleinman’s Explanatory Model provides an unbiased guide to asking questions to learn from the patient and their family:

  1. What do you call your illness? What name does it have?
  2. What do you think has caused the illness?
  3. Why and when did it start?
  4. What do you think the illness does? How does it work?
  5. How severe is it? How long do you think you will have it?
  6. What kind of treatment do you think the patient should receive? What are the most important results you hope he/she receives from this treatment?
  7. What are the chief problems the illness has caused?
  8. What do you fear most about the illness?

Helpful Resources

  • Bomar, P.J. (2004). Promoting health in families. Applying family research and theory to nursing practice. (3rd ed.) Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, Elsevier Inc.
  • Campinha-Bacote, J. (1996). A culturally competent model of nursing management. Surgical Services Management, 2(5) 22-25. Friedman, M.M., Bowden, V.R., & Jones, E.G. (2003). Family nursing. Research, theory, and practice. (5th ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • Galanti, G.A. (2008). Caring for patients from different cultures. (4th ed). Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Kleinman, A. (1981). Patients and healers in the context of culture: an exploration of the borderland between anthropology, medicine, and psychiatry. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Questions & Comments

Please send all questions and/or feedback to [email protected].

Worth Sharing
Volume VII, Issue 6

A Special Thanks to This Series’ Contributors

Hedi Aguiar
Hedi Aguiar
Program Consultant
Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance
Deanna Fenton
About the Editor |
Deanna Fenton

Deanna is a knowledgeable and versatile professional with diverse experiences in healthcare, client relations, marketing, project management and demonstrated skills in leadership and advocacy. Prior to joining The Alliance, she worked in Hospital Development at her local OPO in the state of New Jersey where she served as the clinical liaison to a number of Level 1 Trauma & Neuroscience centers as well as community hospitals. Her personal connection as a donor family and friend fuels her passion to support her colleagues across the donation-transplantation continuum through the development of valuable educational resources that ultimately boost performance and improve outcome measures. Deanna holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor degree in Public Health from Montclair State University. In her spare time, Deanna enjoys visiting vineyards, spending time with her family, and traveling in hopes of visiting all seven wonders of the world.

Advancing All.

The Alliance is not a membership organization and therefore relies on annual voluntary financial support from OPOs and transplant programs who find value in our programs and initiatives.

We invite you to join us as a professional partner