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By Duaa Elzeney on Dec 11, 2012| 1 comment

The primary goal of any diversity training is to increase awareness of a different cultural group and its norms. The intention is both to lead to further inclusion of this cultural group into larger society, as well as create more collaborative work environments through deepened understanding of another culture. Diversity training on American Muslims for any healthcare professional will carry the core goal of enabling the healthcare professional to provide more effective service to a Muslim patient – regardless of whether the healthcare practitioner is non-Muslim or Muslim.

Systematized Diversity Training Does Not Exist

The American Muslim population is a fairly young one in many regards. Though Muslim immigration to the US dates as far back as the founding of the nation, the current expansion of the American Muslim population is fairly young. As such, American Muslims and American Muslim communities do not yet have a uniform identity. American Muslims are as diverse as the practice of the religion itself. This, perhaps, might serve as one major barrier to the current lack of systematized diversity training on American Muslims – particularly in the healthcare field.

Muslim organizations or professionals that provide diversity training tend to do so with a view to the increase in discrimination over the last 3-4 years that the American Muslim population has witnessed. Thus, these trainings will tend to focus heavily on the ideology of the religion and defending the religion – rather than present an objective cultural awareness of American Muslims. These trainings will also tend to rely heavily on historical anecdotal information rather than attempt to address or define the current cultural identity of an American Muslim.

If the healthcare field were to glean lessons learnt from other fields in the area of diversity training and developing effective diversity training, it would be to view American Muslims in an objective manner. This would include setting aside presumptions of a violent culture or stereotyping based on the behavior of individuals involved with the events of 9-11. Instead, the field must move towards the primary goal of diversity training – and this is to provide the best healthcare service possible to American Muslims, as integrated citizens of this nation.

What Should Diversity Training on American Muslims for Healthcare Professionals Not Include?

In addition to not focusing on the discrimination of American Muslims, as that is a political consideration, the diversity training should focus on more than the topics of gender, food, and end of life issues. The existing diversity training for healthcare professionals will typically include just these areas. Though useful, they only provide a superficial understanding of what distinguishes an American Muslim from an American of another religion.

Elements of a Successful Diversity Training on American Muslims for Healthcare Professionals

According to studies done by Gallup, the U.S. Institute of Peace, Pew Research Center and other organizations, American Muslims today have the following characteristics:

  • The American Muslim community is extremely diverse.
  • The population consists of approximately 6 – 8 million people (some estimate as low as 2 million; however, the general consensus is an average of 5 million total).
  • The composition of the community is a combination of first, second and third-generation Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian, European, African, and African-American Muslims.
  • There are numerous national and regional Muslim organizations dedicated to important civic, religious, cultural, edu­cational, political, and social issues.
  • Many are professionals — particularly doctors, scientists, engineers, and financial analysts, and entrepreneurs. As one example, there are more than 14,000 Pakistani Muslim doctors practicing medicine in the U.S.
  • 45% of immigrant Muslims report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher. This compares to the national average of 44%.

Given the breadth of the American Muslim population, there cannot be one diversity training on American Muslim communities for healthcare professionals. In format, it is essential to have a separate diversity training or separate segments within the same training to address each American Muslim cultural group – Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian, European, African, and African-American – to take into account key nuances from both culture and religion. These trainings will need to go into detail on the appropriate etiquette for each cultural ethnicity, gender, educational background, income bracket, and age.

Since the focus of these trainings for health professionals is essentially on the quality of caregiving between a provider and diverse Muslim patient populations, the content of the trainings will need to address barriers to receiving adequate healthcare that is rooted in cultural norms. This will need to go beyond a basic understanding of Islam or its practice but will need to thoroughly cover cultural beliefs that deter the pursuit of effective healthcare at the right times.

Given the amount of material and training that needs to be developed to address Muslim patient healthcare needs, this will likely fall to a diversity training organization or perhaps one of the top insurance conglomerates as they have at their disposal the resources needed to fully and adequately develop these trainings. This should include focus groups among the different cultural groups within the American Muslim community, as well as with American Muslim physicians who likely have developed best practice methods for addressing the healthcare needs of Muslim patients. Ideally, this type of training should be developed by American Muslim physicians but without an adequate centralized leadership within the American Muslim medical community to spearhead this effort, one would hope that at the very least American Muslim physicians are consulted and focus groups within the American Muslim community are held.

As it stands, the training described above does not exist neither with the format nor focus I recommend. This training is essential to the further integration of the American Muslim population. Adequate healthcare is the quintessential battleground for the American Muslim community to establish itself as a critical component of the fabric of this country. Thus, it can be argued that developing diversity trainings on American Muslims for healthcare professionals is more than just about adequate healthcare. It is a political move for American Muslims and one that would help the community further establish itself. American Muslim healthcare professionals should consider it obligatory to take the lead on this endeavor, as the community stands to greatly benefit from it; it will help with the new wave of discrimination against American Muslims in recent years and at the present moment.

 Duaa Elzeney is a non-profit manger with expertise on Muslim world and American Muslim issues and has worked extensively with diversity training for professionals. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and works at Zaytuna College. 

1 Comment

  1. Salaams! Thank you for your insightful comments. I think there is a need for training co-workers of Muslims, as well. As a hijab-wearing Muslim nurse, I was recently shocked by comments about how the hijab may be an infection control issue. I am curious what my sister surgeons/OR, and other “sterile” areas have found to be their experience. The only circulating I have done is in the cath lab, so I was “semi-sterile” I guess. I just wore a cap over my hijab, which seemed rather redundant. :)

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