Traditions and beliefs help us understand who we are. The yearly practice of these traditions can be like a “you are here” arrow for the rest of the year, marking the season and person’s place in it. This means that beyond the basics of culturally competent care, during the holiday season you have the opportunity to help celebrate your patients as people. Here are ways to show that you understand and appreciate the traditions that on a deep level help your patients celebrate who they are:

1. Ask, Don’t Assume

You may be able to predict when a patient will want water or might need to talk through a difficult procedure, but it’s much harder to know how a patient wants to be cared for during the holidays. So ask! If your patients are young, speak with their parents or caregivers. You may associate the holidays with family and gifts, but your patients may not. Talking with your patients about their holiday traditions is the first step to honoring them.

2. Listen

There’s listening and then there’s listening. A patient’s description of holiday beliefs and traditions may be as important to the quality of their care as their medical history. Even if you can’t fully adjust your care to a patient’s holiday preferences (for example, it may be impossible to allow a severely diabetic patient to fast), focused and open-minded listening can help your patients feel understood.

3. Share

You are not your patients’ only caregiver. Share what you learn! This sharing goes two ways: make sure to communicate what you know about your patients to the rest of the care team and also don’t be afraid to ask other members of the team what they know. Especially if you end up adjusting practices to your patients’ beliefs, communication can help to ensure continuity of care.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.
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