06.03 Caring for African Patient Populations

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Culture
    1. Extremely diverse
    2. Storytelling
      1. Supports identity
      2. Provides insight
        1. Beliefs
        2. Customs
    3. Value
      1. Moral code
      2. Family
        1. Size determines status
        2. Extended
      3. Respect for elders
      4. Hard work
      5. Religion
        1. Diverse
        2. “Supreme Being”
        3. Christianity
        4. Islamic
  2. Health
    1. Influenced by religion
    2. Illness due to conflict
      1. Family
      2. Community
        1. Involved in treatment
      3. Spirit
  3. Treatment practices
    1. Based on spiritual beliefs
      1. Cause of illness
    2. Medicine
    3. Natural remedies
      1. Roots
      2. Herbs
    4. Spiritual/traditional healer
      1. Rituals
      2. Ceremonies
    5. Divination
      1. Provided by a spiritual healer
      2. Reveals the meaning of and resolution to illness
        1. Use of ancestors
        2. Dreams and visions


Today we’re going to be talking about African culture.

First and foremost, Africa is a continent with many countries and regions. Because of this, culture is extremely diverse and based on what tribe, country or region the person is from. This is very similar to America with all its differences. It becomes a little difficult to follow, so we are going to narrow it down to some of the more similar cultural systems. African culture relies heavily on storytelling which not only supports identity within the culture but also provides insight into the customs and beliefs of that specific culture. These stories help us as caregivers and give us some insight to what’s important to the person we are treating, so be sure to listen to them with the intention to learn. Value is also a huge part that we will discuss more in-depth.

Value in African culture is based on a moral code. What is that? It’s the guidelines that influence most aspects of each individual living in that specific region. These are in no particular order but all are some parts of that code. In African culture, the size of your family determines your social status and includes extended family, because the structure of the family is so important. We’ve seen respect for elders a few times in other lessons as well. As I said earlier, Africa is extremely diverse as are the religious beliefs throughout the continent. All Africans believe in spirituality and a “supreme being”, but what that being is referred to as is specific to the area. However, Islam and Christianity are the most prominent.

As I said, Africa is very diverse. How Africans view health is based on the religious diversity we just talked about. This map shows you how the religions are broken down by region and will help you understand how each region views health based on that. For instance, the northern part of Africa is the Islamic religion. Having an idea of what Islamics believe will help you understand these regions’ religious beliefs. The same thing goes for the southern portion, which is mostly Christian with some Folk religions sprinkled in between. On the flip side of things, African culture puts conflict at fault for illness. The conflict can be internal with the spirit, with family or within the community, who incidentally is usually involved in treatment when you talk about tribal beliefs.

Remember, religion plays a strong part in health in African culture, so it would only make sense for treatment to be based on spiritual beliefs on what caused the illness. When we talk about treatment practices, it looks a lot like some of the other cultures we’ve already discussed. Medicine and natural remedies like roots and herbs are practiced in a few of the different cultures we’ve explored. What we haven’t seen much of are the spiritual and traditional healers, and divination, so let’s talk about those for a second. Spiritual and traditional healers use rituals and ceremonies to treat the sick. They are also used to keep bad spirits away to prevent illness. Spiritual healers also use what’s called divination which uses the ancestors, dreams, and visions to reveal the meaning of an illness and how to cure it. It resembles prophesizing.

Some key points to remember: when you are treating an African patient, there are many different tribes and countries, so values and beliefs will change depending on the region. You don’t need to be versed in all of them, but you definitely want to understand the values they hold most important so you can honor them and their wishes for treatment. Also, you want to know where in the treatment they are. Not only is religion the basis of health, but it is also the basis for curing illness as well. Some may try traditional treatment first, but most do so as a last resort which puts you in a position to provide late care. Last but not least, storytelling is big in African culture. If your patient wishes to tell you a story, listen closely. It could be what helps you understand their needs and provide the best care. Whatever the case, be sure to incorporate what’s more important to them in your care.

We love you guys! Go out and be your best self today! And as always, Happy Nursing!