Communicating with patients from minority backgrounds: Individual challenges experienced by oncology health professionals

Kaaren J. Watts, Bettina Meiser, Elvira Zilliacus, Rajneesh Kaur, Mona Taouk, Afaf Girgis, Phyllis Butow, David Goldstein, Sandra Hale, Astrid Perry, Sanchia K. Aranda, David W. Kissane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Web of Science)


Purpose Oncology health professionals (HPs) are increasingly required to care for patients from minority backgrounds. Yet many HPs have not had formal training in how to communicate effectively in culturally diverse settings. More information is needed about the challenges that oncology HPs face in communicating with minority patients to inform the content of formal training programs. This qualitative study aimed to identify oncology nurses’ and oncologists’ individual experiences and challenges in communicating with patients from minority backgrounds. Method Thirty-eight oncology HPs (21 oncology nurses, 12 medical oncologists, and 5 radiation oncologists) were interviewed individually or in focus groups about their experiences communicating with patients from minority backgrounds. The interviews were audio taped and analysed thematically. Results The majority of participants (82%) reported varying degrees of uncertainty and discomfort regarding working with minority patients, with many barriers to communication encountered. Participants perceived that minority patients received less emotional support than majority group patients. They experienced challenges in balancing beliefs about patient autonomy with cultural differences regarding the role of the family. Strategies employed by participants to facilitate interactions included: modifying speech, taking more time in consultations, rapport building, and using nonverbal techniques. Conclusions Oncology HPs encounter many linguistic and cultural barriers when communicating with minority patients. They need formal training tailored to developing culturally competent communication. Oncology nurses and oncologists could benefit from formal communication skills training focused upon cultural competence during their career development programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-90
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Oncology Nursing
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


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