Cultural Variables For Medical Assistant Job

Body language and verbal communication takes on different meanings depending upon the cultural norms of those involved. Medical assistants should familiarize themselves with cultural norms of the ethnic groups most commonly seen in their facility. Familiarity with this information helps them interact more knowledgeably with others and decreases the likelihood of communication mishaps.

Cultural Variations in Communication

Well-intended efforts to educate patients can sometimes be wasted energy if medical assistants unintentionally offend or confuse patients through cultural insensitivity. For example, use of direct touch, prolonged eye contact, or an overly casual greeting can be so offensive to some individuals that they cannot adequately attend to the message of the speaker. Medical assistants should strive to become culturally competent and, when unsure of how to proceed, should err on the side of addressing their patients in a more conservative, formal manner.

Cultural Competence in the Medical Office

No one has the time or resources to fully understand the variations in communication styles for every culture. However, the medical office team should meet to brainstorm about ways they could all increase their knowledge and understanding of cultures common to their patient population. For example, each member could take responsibility for choosing a culture of interest, learning about it, and then teaching coworkers about it. That person could serve as the office “expert” and a resource for coworkers. Before getting started, the team should agree on what information is most valuable to know. Clinical and administrative medical assistants may have different ideas, depending on the needs they have observed in their areas. Therefore, the team should collaborate in creating the “must-have” list of information. Then the office could distribute “cheat sheets” for each cultural group researched, which could be kept on hand as a quick reference for all office staff.