Hospitals and cultural diversity: social worker experiences and reflections


  • Doris Anne Testa Victoria University



Cultural diversity, hospitals, social work


INTRODUCTION: Social work accrediting bodies mandate that workers analyse ways in which cultural values and structural forces shape client experiences and opportunities and that workers deconstruct mechanisms of exclusion and asymmetrical power relationships. This article reports the findings of a small-scale qualitative study of frontline hospital social workers’ experiences and understanding of their mandate for culturally sensitive practice.

METHODS: The study involved one-hour, semi-structured interviews with 10 frontline hospital social workers. The interviews sought to understand how frontline workers and their organisations understood sensitive practice. Drawing on their own social cultural biographies, workers described organisational policy and practices that supported (or not) culturally sensitive practice. Narrative analysis was used to extract themes.

FINDINGS: Data indicate that frontline hospital social workers demonstrated their professional mandate for culturally sensitive practice. Workers were firm in their view that working with the culturally other requires humility as well as a preparedness to value and engage the multiple cultural meanings that evolve in the patient–worker encounter.

CONCLUSION: The findings highlight that mandating cultural sensitivity does not necessarily result in such practice. Cultural sensitivity requires an understanding of how cultural and social location may be implicated in sustaining the dominant cultural narrative and signals the need for workers, systems and organisations to facilitate appropriate learning experiences to explore culturally sensitive practice.  


Author Biography

Doris Anne Testa, Victoria University

Doris Testa, PhD is Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Victoria University, Melbourne. Dr Testa’s recent research and publications are in the areas of school based social work and teaching and learning in higher education.


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How to Cite

Testa, D. A. (2017). Hospitals and cultural diversity: social worker experiences and reflections. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(2), 96–107.



Original Articles