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Culturally Competent Care for Muslim Patients

Nurses and other health professional are in a position to have a tremendous impact.

In recent years, Muslims and Arab Americans have been a target for hate speech and backlash in the United States. Since 2011, the war in Syria displaced millions of families. New Syrian arrivals to Philadelphia and other areas have had to deal with traumatic memories and experiences that they were escaping, and also bias and insensitivity in their new home. There are opportunities for healthcare workers to alleviate some of that stress by learning and implementing a few basic practices in the care of Muslim and Arab Americans.

Jefferson nurse educator, Esmihan Almontaser, together with collaborator Dr. Steven Baumann, from Hunter College in New York City published an article entitled, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis: What Nurses Need to Know,” in order to break down preconceived notions and stereotypes and provide guidance to healthcare workers on the needs and preferences of a Muslim or Arab American patient. They focused their articles on the question, “what do nurses need to know?”

Here are a few pointers pulled from that piece.

Steps hospitals can take

  • Find “Culturally competent champions” who can act as on-demand consultants and ambassadors in the healthcare setting. These individuals can assist practitioners in interacting appropriately with patients from diverse backgrounds.
  • Make accommodations for Halal food.
  • Coordinate with pharmacy departments to ensure there are alternatives to medicines that use gelatin (or other products made from pork) or alcohol in their formulations.
  • Provide an interfaith room and privacy for daily prayer that is practiced five times per day. This should allow enough room for standing, kneeling and prostrating in the direction of Mecca. Some hospitals make prayer rugs available and mark the direction of Mecca in the room.
  • Provide translation services that go beyond a call-in translator. An in-person translator could help breech the cultural as well as linguistic divide.

Modesty and religious practice are important ideals. How can healthcare professionals help patients feel more comfortable?

  • Offer a longer gown with full-length sleeves with snaps instead of ties in the back. If that’s not available, offer additional blankets for coverage. Inappropriate skin exposure from hospital gowns can cause considerable stress.
  • Allow the patient to be seen by a doctor of the same gender as the patient — especially when dealing with gynecological issues. Muslim men or women may refuse care if this is not possible.
  • Remember that there is rich diversity of experience, belief, and background and that the preferences of one Muslim or Arab family may be very different from another.


Patients who have experienced trauma, including refugees from crisis areas such as Syria, are also likely to be blamed or have guilt surrounding their experiences. How can nurses help?

  • Remember that these patients are often scapegoats for societal problems that are out of their control. Be careful not to reinforce that trauma.
  • Traumatized individuals may be distrustful of medicine and figures of authority for historical reasons, or based on prior personal experience. Nurses and physicians may require more patience in eliciting patient history.
  • Basic compassion and empathy when communicating to patients in general can go a long way in nurse relations. Nurses should be mindful of their own facial expressions and body language when communicating with other staff regarding all patients.

Debunking myths:

  • According to a 2014 study, the main factor preventing Arab refugees from fully integrating into American society is discrimination at every level, which directly affects health outcomes and quality of care.
  • Not all Arabs practice the Muslim faith. There are 22 distinct Arab-speaking nations comprising both Muslims — abiding by the beliefs and rituals of Islam as well as Christianity and other faiths.


Press release

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Research & Innovation