Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

As nurses, we are often asked to step out of our comfort zone. I, for one, feel that I have no problem working with people from different cultures and races. After all, I survived the desegregation busing period in Boston in the late 1970s. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

Growing up in Boston Chinatown, I was bused to a high school in a predominately African American community. My friends and I were attacked by Irish teenagers in South Boston. I know what it is like to be different and how it feels to be treated based on my physical appearance.

It is easy to say I can work with everyone but it is a lot harder when I have to do it every day. This is especially true for nursing. This job involves all my senses and requires me to use them out of my comfort zone.

For example, I may be able to talk with everyone but I may not be able to touch everyone. During my maternity rotation as a nursing student, I have three patients from different cultures and backgrounds.

One mother is a Caucasian lawyer who writes down the name of every person who walks into her room. Another woman is a new immigrant from China who can barely speak English. The third mom is a Latino teenager who texts her friends constantly with her cellphone.

My responsibilities include teaching the lawyer how to breastfeed, the teenager how to care for her newborn, and the new immigrant the recommended feeding schedule. I have to teach the lawyer how to hold her breast and I am not comfortable doing that. Of course, she can sense it. She asks for the lactation specialist. So I move on to the teenager.

She is surrounded by family and friends. They are laughing and speaking in Spanish. She tells me that she doesn't need me. Okay, her mom is there. I have an excuse. Her mom will teach her what she needs, right?

I move on to the new immigrant. I should be able to make a connection here. We both are Chinese and I can speak her dialect. My preceptor thinks the new mom is feeding her baby whenever he cries. I should teach her how to keep the baby on a schedule. She tells me her way is the Chinese way and I should have known better.

It is a day full of excuses. My final excuse is that maternity is not for me. However, if I had focused on my nursing duties, I would be able to find ways to cross cultural barriers and learn how to be a better nurse. Looking back, I wish that I had handled each situation differently.

The lactation specialist is a resource and I should have stayed in the room and learn to teach breastfeeding. The teenager may not want to work with me but I should have learned from her family how they care for a newborn. I have the opportunity to teach the new immigrant the benefits of keeping a newborn on a feeding schedule. I should not have given up a teaching moment. If I had stepped out of my comfort zone, who knows ... I may even end up in maternity.

78 Posts

Share this post

This is so true , as nurses we have to interface with many different people, I bet the lawyer was anxious and writing down was her control.

Specializes in Med/Surg, Geriatrics.
She tells me her way is the Chinese way and I should have known better.

LOL, I love it. I never heard of teaching new mothers to put the baby on a schedule. How presumptuous of that instructor.

I loved the fact that you were able to look back at the situation and learn from it. So often, we only focus on our own discomfort instead of what we should have done differently.

We all like to believe that our cultural differences don't affect our care but unfortunately they sometimes do even when we are taking care of people who share our ethnic background. It's something to be aware of.

Specializes in OR, community nursing.

The baby was throwing up a lot but the Chinese mom kept feeding him.

As nurses, we have many opportunities to learn about different cultures but we don't have the time to do so. Your comment about focusing on own discomfort is so true.

On this particular Chinese patient, she was asked by the gyn resident whether she was in any pain. She told the doctor no but in reality she had a lot of post-partum pain. Because I spoke her dialect, she told me how she really felt and I was able to get her some pain relief. I didn't include this part in the story. I did do something right that day.

Expression of pain is also a culturally determined behavior. Sometimes we have to read between the lines. This is NOT an easy job.

With only 10% of U.S. nurses and nursing school faculty coming from minorities, we have a long way to go before we reach eqilibrium in a country where 34% of the population is non-Caucasian. Health care can work cross-culturally, but it's an extra effort. How much easier if we have someone from one's own "tribe" to be on the health care team (race, socioeconomic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, or other demographic!).