Through its curriculum offerings, Arkansas State University is attempting to address the need for culturally competent health professionals. Culturally competent care has long been recognized as an integral part of health care. The increased cultural diversity among the growing elder population in the United States makes providing culturally appropriate care to our elders an imperative. By 2050, projections show that the older population will consist of 61% non-Hispanic white, 18% Hispanic, 12% Black, 8% Asian, and 2.7% of all other races. Older Hispanics will grow from 2 million in 2003 to 15 million and will outnumber older Blacks by 2028. Older Asians will increase from 1 million in 2003 to 7 million in 2050.
The field dedicated to the study of the confluence of aging, health and ethnicity is called ethnogeriatrics. Researchers in this field are focusing on the differences between and within racial and ethnic groups, the health risks and disparities of ethnic minority groups, the influence of family support and participation and the influence of cultural norms on the patient/caregiver relationship. Caregivers are encouraged to understand cultural norms related to greetings, physical distance, eye contact, and other verbal and non-verbal methods of communication on the impact of their relationship with older adults. By using a patient assessment that includes a detailed review ethonogeriatric issues, the patients’ patterns of decision making, the role of religion and spirituality in their lives and their preferred language for communication can be determined and provide vital pieces of information for excellence in healthcare delivery.
ASU offers an online undergraduate course titled “Cultural Competence in the Health Professions.” The course, which incorporates ethnogeriatric principles, demonstrates to students the pivotal role that cultural competence plays in providing quality healthcare. Students have reported high satisfaction with this offering, and currently, enrollment demands exceed available space. This desire to acquire cultural competence bodes well for the future care of older patients from all cultural groups.