Heritage Assessment: Comparing Cultural Health Traditions

Heritage Assessment: Comparing Cultural Health Traditions

Culture and heritage are the properties that make up a way of life for a specific population. As referenced by South African History Online (n.d.), “Culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” Heritage is formed from the practices and traditions that are learned from generations before one’s self as well as the community in which they were brought up (Defining culture, heritage, and identity, n.d.).

As the factors that characterize culture and heritage are abundant, it is apparent how they compose a large role in holistic nursing. A nurse should be culturally competent to provide her patients with the best care. Assessing a client’s culture and heritage allows the nurse to create a patient centered plan of care; it addresses their needs on a deeper level, strengthens the relationship between patient and nurse, and ultimately optimizes the patient’s outcome. When the nurse gathers cultural data, she asks what traditions are utilized to maintain, protect, and restore one’s health. This document compares the cultural health traditions amongst interviewed families of American, Canadian, and Hispanic heritage, as well as review the heritage of the author as assessed by Spector’s Heritage Assessment Tool (2000). Family Interview

A basic cultural assessment was performed by the author on two families from different backgrounds. A self-assessment was also performed by the author for additional comparison amongst traditions of the other families. Separate interviews were conducted with the primary questions as follows:

  1. What kinds of health traditions exist within your family;
  2. How do you maintain your health;
  3. Once health is established, how do you protect it; and
  4. After recovering from an illness, how do you restore your health?

The family member was encouraged to elaborate with each answer regarding their cultural traditions. During the interview process, it was not difficult for the author to assess the level of knowledge each family member had about their own heritage. The importance of culture and heritage to a specific individual should be assessed when holistic information is collected, as it is valued to some more so than others. Cultural Comparison

The Canadian family health traditions were portrayed by R. R. He was raised in Toronto, Canada with his mother, who is from Toronto; his father who is from Iran; and his younger brother. The author choose this individual for interview because he carries tradition from two very diverse heritages. R. R.’s answer to the first question affirmed his family’s belief in western medicine. He states, “Well my mom’s a nurse so my entire family consults her with any health/illness questions. She has always kept the house stocked with medications for anything you could ever need” (R. R. personal communication, November 13, 2013). R. R. maintains his health by practicing good eating habits such as cooking at home; watching calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium intake; and portion control. Although, he enjoys indulging in Persian cuisine from time to time; his father’s heritage and traditions consisted mostly of food. He also makes efforts to work out when he has time.

He discusses his family’s belief in maintaining low levels of stress for good health. “I’ll get a massage, go for a sauna and steam, or relax in the jacuzzi on a regular basis to help keep stress from my week at bay” (R. R. personal communication, November 13, 2013). Striving to be stress free is a good way to protect health as well as maintain it. R. R. answered question number four by describing how his family manages being sick. With his mother currently battling stage IV bone cancer, R. R.’s family is familiar and comfortable with the traditional and modern medical techniques. He also firmly believes in getting plenty of rest and fluids when restoring the body from illness (R. R. personal communication, November 13, 2013). The health traditions practiced by R. R. and his family resemble that of traditional American culture with slight differences. His Canadian culture shines through with the ease and willingness to refer to doctors as needed. It seems logical due to Canada providing free healthcare to its residents.

S. M. comes from a Hispanic heritage and her interview is synonymous with traditional Latin culture. Although she does not practice as many health traditions on her own, S. M. recalls a few growing up with her parents. She maintains health by trying to eat healthy, attending annual pap smears and other necessary check-ups. She abstains from drug use, monitors alcohol intake, and avoids cigarette smoke (S. M. personal communication, November 13, 2013). S. M. protects her health by keeping prayer candles around her house. “I’m not super religious and neither were my parents but since my grandparents have passed, I keep them to remind me that they are watching over me and my wellbeing.

I light them sometimes when I’m thinking of them” (S. M. personal communication, November 13, 2013). Candles with religious saints on them are typically lit in Catholic and Hispanic culture for praying and to prevent disease or promote health (Higgins & Learn, 1999). Health restoration is practiced by S. M. by keeping family around. She loves being around her family and it is tradition for members to gather and assist loved ones during times of sickness. S. M. values rest and taking time off work as well to restore health (S. M. personal communication, November 13, 2013). The traditions of Hispanic culture as described by S. M. are similar to that of R. R. and some of his Canadian heritage. The maintenance of health for both families are alike considering they both strive to eat healthy.

In comparison of the Canadian and Hispanic cultural health traditions to those of the American author, mild variances exist. As the other families, the author uses good eating habits and exercise to maintain health. She practices yoga and prioritizes time spent ridding her body and mind of stress. The author protects her health by receiving immunizations such as the seasonal influenza vaccine. She avoids substances known to be toxic to the body like cigarette smoke. She encourages her family to practice good health habits and teaches them about maintaining, protecting, and restoring health. The author has Hispanic heritage but does not practice as many traditions as S. M. and her family. The author trusts in western healthcare similar in the ways that R. R. and his family do. Residing in American culture has possibly influenced all three families in which they have adopted some alternative traditions. The Heritage Assessment Tool

After reviewing the Heritage Assessment Tool, it was apparent that the author knew very little regarding the roots of her heritage. The tool is a short survey, with questions about family origins, religion, language, and ethnic activities. It is designed to determine how identified an individual is with traditional heritage (Spector, 2000). The author was unable to answer a small handful of questions, being that she does not practice a religion and does not participate in any ethnic activities. As a nurse dealing with pathophysiology of disease, medicine, rehabilitation, and other science, it is initially difficult to relate the assessment of one’s heritage with their health. When the nurse performs an assessment on a client, it is not complete until data regarding culture and heritage is obtained.

Then she may evaluate her client’s needs. Familiarizing with different cultures and backgrounds allows a competent nurse to understand the needs of the person as a whole being: mind and spirit as well as the body. Spector’s tool (2000) can assist the nurse as well as the patient in addressing if there are needs to be met and how a patient centered plan of care can be developed to meet them. Conclusion

In summary, many diverse cultures and heritages exist sculpting the environment inhabited by individuals, families, and communities. As a member of the healthcare profession, the author has assessed her own identification with heritage and compared it to that of other families finding similarities and differences. Nonetheless, every aspect of culture is important to the individual and must be respected in order to provide the best nursing care. Nurses are not just caring for a body, but also a mind and spirit all of which function together making up a whole person. Awareness and utilization of the proper tools and resources, such as the Heritage Assessment can assist nurses in the care of the whole person.


  • Defining culture, heritage, and identity. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/defining-culture-heritage-and-identity
  • Higgins, P., & Learn, C. (1999). Health practices of adult hispanic women. Journal Of Advanced Nursing, 29(5), 1105-1112. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00999.x R. R. Personal Interview. November 13, 2013 S. M. Personal Interview. November 13, 2013
  • Spector, R. E. (2000). CulturalCare: Guide to heritage assessment and health traditions (5th ed.). Pearson Education/PH College.

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