LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Recognize how an understanding of a patient’s culture, race, religion, sex, and age can affect interpersonal relations.

As a healthcare provider, you must be able to identify, understand, and use various kinds of information. In addition, it is important that you develop good “interpersonal relations” skills. In providing total patient care, it is important that you seethe individual not only as a biological being, but also as a thinking, feeling person. Your commitment to understanding this concept is the key to your developing good interpersonal relationships.

Simply stated, your interpersonal relationships are the result of how you regard and respond to people. Many elements influence the development of that regard and those responses. In the following discussion, some of these elements will be discussed as they apply to your involvement in the military service and to your relationships with other healthcare providers and the patient.


Because of the multi- and cross-cultural nature of the healthcare profession, you will frequently encounter members of various cultures. Culture is defined as a group of socially learned, shared standards (norms) and behavior patterns. Concepts such as perceptions, values, beliefs, and goals are examples of shared norms. In addition, apparel, eating habits, and personal hygiene reflect common behavior patterns of specific groups of people. An understanding of common norms and behavior patterns enhances the quality—and often the quantity—of service a provider is able to make available. An individual’s cultural background has an effect on every area of health care service, ranging from a simple technical procedure to the content and effectiveness of health education activities. Becoming familiar with the beliefs and practices of different cultural and subcultural groups is not only enriching to the healthcare provider, but also promotes an under­standing and acceptance of the various peoples in the world community.


The term race is a classification assigned to a group of people who share inherited physical characteristics. This term becomes a socially significant reality since people tend to attach great importance to assuming or designating a racial identity. Information identifying racial affiliation can be an asset to the healthcare provider in assessing the patient’s needs, carrying out direct-care activities, and planning and implementing patient education programs. Racial identification has the potential to create a negative environment in the healthcare setting when factors such as skin color differences motivate prejudicial and segregational behaviors. When this is permitted to occur, an environment that feeds a multitude of social illnesses and destructive behaviors develops.

It is both the moral and legal responsibility of the healthcare provider to render services with respect for the life and human dignity of the individual without regard to race, creed, gender, political views, or social status.


A large majority of people have some form of belief system that guides many of their life decisions and to which they turn to in times of distress. A person’s religious beliefs frequently help give meaning to suffering and illness; those beliefs may also be helpful in the acceptance of future incapacities or death.

As a healthcare professional, you must accept in a nonjudgmental way the religious or nonreligious beliefs of others as valid for them, even if you personally disagree with such beliefs. Although you may offer religious support when asked and should always provide chaplain referrals when requested or indicated, it is not ethical for you to abuse your patients by forcing your beliefs (or non-beliefs) upon them. You must respect their freedom of choice, offering your support for whatever their needs or desires may be.


In today’s healthcare environment, you will encounter many situations where you are responsible for the care and treatment of service members of the opposite sex. When you treat service members of the opposite sex, you must always conduct yourself in a professional manner.

To ensure the professional conduct of a healthcare provider is not called into question:

Knowledge, empathy, and mature judgment should guide the care provided to any patient. This is especially crucial when the care involves touching. As a member of the healthcare team, you are responsible for providing complete, quality care to those who need and seek your service. This care must also be provided in a manner compatible with your technical capabilities.


The age of the patient must be considered in performance of patient care. As a medical technician, you will be responsible for the care of infants, children, adults, and the elderly. Communication techniques and patient handling may need to be modified because of the age of the patient.

Infants and Children

Infants can communicate their feelings in a variety of positive and negative ways, and they exhibit their needs by crying, kicking, or grabbing at the affected area of pain. An infant, however, usually responds positively to cuddling, rocking, touching, and soothing sounds.

Children need emotional support and display the same feelings an adult would when ill: fear, anger, worry, and so on. When ill, children may display behavior typical for an earlier age. For example, when hospitalized, a child who has been toilet trained may soil himself. This is not unusual, and parents should be informed that this behavior change is temporary. While the child is under your care in the hospital, you are a parent substitute and must gain the child’s confidence and trust. Offer explanations of what you are going to do in ways the child will understand.


In taking care of the elderly patient, a healthcare professional must be alert to the patient’s mental and physical capabilities (i.e., physical coordination, mental orientation, reduced eyesight). Medical management should be modified to accommodate the individual patient. Show genuine respect and warmth with the elderly. Avoid using terms like “gramps” or “granny.” You should always show the elderly respect by treating them as the adults they are.

Give older patients the opportunity to control as many aspects of their self-care as possible. Allowing patients to self-pace their own care may take more time, but it will result in reducing their feelings of frustration, anger, and resentment. Listen to patients and allow them to reminisce if they wish to. The conversation can be used as a vehicle to bring today’s events into focus for the patient. Remember to involve family members, as needed, into the patient education process. Some of your elderly patients will require assistance from family members for their medical needs once they are back home.