Cultural competence education session provides information, challenges assumptions

Monday, April 20, 2015 - 10:10am

It’s important to Peggy McEachreon, librarian educator for Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) Central Zone, to work for an organization that values and lives diversity. That’s one of the reasons McEachreon decided to attend a recent Cultural Competence education session offered by the organization.

“You can’t really get a sense of an organization’s culture from a policy,” says McEachreon. As a relatively new employee, she found the session a valuable introduction to how the organization embeds diversity in its work. For instance, Central Zone (previously Capital Health) has identified four priority groups as a focus for its immediate work: African Nova Scotians, Aboriginals, new immigrants and people with disabilities. These groups were selected as priority after a workforce diversity survey identified them as being most underrepresented as compared to community. McEachreon feels this type of information is important for employees to know.

“The effort that has been put in to making evidence-based changes in favour of creating a more diverse workforce in the Central Zone is commendable,” says McEachreon.

Mohamed Yaffa, diversity co-ordinator and session facilitator, says, “We bear a collective responsibility for the health of our diverse communities and each of us needs the knowledge and skills to meet our obligation of providing culturally competent services. The sessions are designed with this mind.”

For McEachreon, the biggest learning came from a group discussion around cultural competence itself - what does it mean to be culturally competent? “Is it about knowing every statistical figure about specific populations of people and then taking these better-informed assumptions into our interactions? No, actually. Our best way to understand the person in front of us is to ask questions to the person in front of us.”

McEachreon has a strong desire to develop her own cultural competence and challenge her own assumptions. 

“I’ve done a lot of work to erode and erase my tendency to carry assumptions, or at the very least to be aware of them so that they don’t influence my decision making,” says McEachreon. “At this point, I’m so practiced at releasing assumptions, that it’s difficult for me to identify them after the fact. The biggest potential assumption I may have been carrying into the session was that most people are willfully ignorant on subjects like these, and don’t want to change. I love to be proven wrong on this count!

“I walked away from the session with a renewed sense of hope because I saw that my colleagues in the organization are passionate about doing what they can, in every interaction, at every level, to improve, to be inclusive, to be respectful - and to open their minds and hearts to others. That kind of genuineness really touches my heart and makes be glad to be part of this organization.”

Yaffa is pleased that participants like McEachreon find the training valuable. “We always want participants to leave with an increased sense of responsibility for diversity and feeling better connected with resources in our organization."

The next cultural competence education session takes place April 30. Staff can register through LMS or contact Anne Feltham at anne.feltham@nshealth.ca or 902-473-3865.