American Muslim nurses break down cultural barriers

While American Muslim nurses face unique challenges in 2015, many use their position as caregivers to clear up misconceptions, according to

In the current political climate, negative stereotypes and media images of Muslims can complicate working in the medical field, according to Arshia Wajid, founder and president of American Muslim Health Professionals and a consultant at Huron Consulting. For example, Naj Bazzy, R.N., a Detroit clinical transcultural nurse, described an incident where a patient refused care from her because of the headscarf she wore.

The solution to these issues involves prioritizing patient comfort, Bazzy said, even if that means accommodating requests for a different nurse. As a Muslim nurse, Bazzy is ideally positioned to speak for patients and act as a cultural go-between when necessary. "It's using the faith to help me navigate those issues. I want to create a good outcome," Bazzy told "I'm a patient advocate. But my faith is what informs all of that. Being Muslim is what makes me the best nurse I can be."   

Since the American Muslim community is made up of individuals with different backgrounds and who follow various practices, providers must make an effort to understand this diversity. For example, African-American Muslims often converted to Islam as adults and approach the faith from an Afrocentric perspective that distinguishes their point of view from that of someone who comes from or has a background in the Middle East or South Asia.

While Zainub Rasheed, a nurse at Tampa's Florida Hospital, said she's encountered patients who seemed to have initial misgivings, she sees it as part of her job to make those patients as comfortable as she can, including making it clear that she's open to questions about her culture and religion. And in the case of patients from a similar cultural background, clinicians often have insights that can improve their care.

Many Muslims, patients and staff alike, observe their faith by praying five times a day and, depending on the time of day, some prayer times may fall during a standard 12-hour shift. Hospital administrators can make their hospitals more welcoming by offering spaces for these observances and hiring a Muslim chaplain, according to Wajid. Cultural competency is an important priority for both the healthcare industry and medical education, and a 2013 guide outlined several steps hospitals can take to become cultually competent.

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