Skip to Content

Department of Anthropology

Special Edition: Transcultural nursing and its relevance at UofSC

According to Madeleine Leininger, early nurse theorist, Transcultural nursing has been defined as a legitimate and formal area of study, research, and practice, focused on culturally based care beliefs, values, and practices to help cultures or subcultures maintain or regain their health (wellbeing) and face disabilities or death in culturally congruent and beneficial caring ways.” Looking at Leininger’s Sunrise Model, one can see how she believed in a more holistic view and considered all factors to be impactful of a person’s health. It takes into consideration the patient's culture and beliefs to treat him or her in a most efficient and caring manner. Transcultural nursing is understood through the framework of social anthropology which has revealed the connection between the two. Nursing and anthropology are incredibly similar in respects to what they study. For example, nurses monitor the normal growth, behavior and overall well-being of a patient and anthropologists study the beliefs, culture and behavior of groups of people. Both professions are concerned with the culture and behavior of a person/group of people. Leininger’s Care Theory revealed that nurses have a responsibility to understand not just the current situation of a patient, but also the environment they will encounter after they leave the hospital. Nurses need to be able to work with translators seamlessly to understand a patient's culture and beliefs to treat them with the best possible care. The Western Journal of Nursing Research has stated, “To implement nursing interventions that are appropriate to the cultural needs of a patient... nurses have drawn on concepts from anthropological research.” This statement is a testament to how important anthropology is in respect to transcultural nursing.  

With that being said, the University of South Carolina College of Nursing (Nursing) faculty wanted to find a way to teach their students about the rules or social norms of interaction with patients as well as how to work efficiently with a translator. The faculty have developed a collaborative internship for graduate level students in the Doctor of Nurse Practice Program which will allow them to recognize cultural differences and work well with a translatorIn the development of this internship, the nursing department collaborated with the global studies department to find students to be translators and patients for the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) students to work with. Dr. Robin Dawson, who is the developer of the internship as well as the director of the Smart Start Nursing Program and a Nursing associate professor, said she wanted to give these global studies students a taste of best practices in medical interpretation. According to Anna Kell, a PhD student advised by Dr. Dawson“The global studies student will get to learn the ethical and legal obligations that they have as interpreters in a medical setting. The nursing students participating in this “immersive experience” will receive training before coming to campus and then get to participate in a workshop with Dr. Dawson. The training course will be taught by Doctors Davis and Gibbs, Nursing assistant professors, who have created different scenarios involving chief complaints, the patient's reason for coming in, and will have the DNP students provide care. Dr. Gibbs, who is also the assistant director of the Family Nurse Practitioner Program, said that this will be an advanced assessment course to help students learn better communication skills and how to meet individual patient needs. According to Dr. Gibbs, the nursing department is always looking for ways to improve students' skills in clinical settings.” These clinical skills draw on elements of linguistic anthropology as students must understand the rules of conversation and how to understand the words that aren’t spoken as much as the ones that are.  

As Dr. Dawson perfectly said, “Anthropology has always been a natural fit for nursing.” Before doctoral programs existed, one “trained at the knee of a predecessor,” as the beginning nurses were trained in the model of an apprenticeship. Nurses study the human body and anthropologists study human beings; this connection is also evident in both practices and study of a person’s culture.  many of the first people to study nursing were anthropologists because of the similarities between the two disciplinesIn its beginnings, nursing did not have a higher education option, leading nurses to seek doctoral degrees in other fields. Nurses have more ongoing interaction with the patient and provide care that, according to Dr. Dawson, “is culturally respectful, understandable, and is linguistically appropriate.  In the eyes of Dr. Gibbs, anthropology allows nurses to meet the needs of people no matter what their culture is. This ability to increase quality of life by understanding a person’s background draws directly on concepts from anthropology. By definition, anthropology is the study of human societies, cultures, and their development as well as biological and physiological characteristics of evolution. Anthropology is what allows nurses to formulate an understanding as to how a person’s culture and development effect their health. Culture is always an aspect of the care,” says Dr. Murillo, the director of the Clinical Simulation Lab and Nursing assistant professor at UofSC. She says that, “When you deny culture as a part of an individual, you are denying their humanity in a way, so nurses should always be anthropologists.” Nurses need to pay close attention to the environment and people that they are sending a patient home to because it will impact their care. For example, their beliefs may prohibit them from having a blood transfusion or taking certain medicines.  

Dr. Murillo summarizes the reason anthropology plays such a big part in nursing in saying that, “While we may have many differences... at the core we are all human beings that are biologically the same. This internship being offered to graduate level nursing students is teaching more holistic care like the early nurse theorists believed in. It blends culture, humanity, and communication through transcultural nursing to create a cohesive and amazing opportunity for nurses to prepare themselves to work with translators and to better understand culture.  


Works Cited  

Dawson, Dr. Robin. Personal Interview. 17 March 2021.  

DeSantis, Lydia. “Making Anthropology Clinically Relevant to Nursing Care.” Journal of Advanced Nursing  (Wiley-Blackwell), vol. 20, no. 4, Oct. 1994, pp. 707–715. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1046/j.1365- 2648.1994.20040707.x.  

Dougherty, Molly C., and Toni Tripp-Reimer. “The Interface of Nursing and Anthropology.” Annual  Review of Anthropology, vol. 14, Oct. 1985, pp. 219–241. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1146/ 

Gibbs, Dr. Shelli. Personal Interview. 5 April 2021. 

Kell, Anna. Personal Interview. 2 April 2021.  

Murillo, Dr. Crystal. Personal Interview. 14 April 2021. 


Photo Credit: Naidoo, H. (n.d.). A woman getting her blood pressure tested [Stock image]. Unsplash. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.