Exploring the role of cultural support workers in the New Zealand healthcare setting
Keywords:cultural support, healthcare, communication
INTRODUCTION: The introduction of the community health worker (CHW), or cultural support worker (CSW) as they are more commonly known in Aotearoa New Zealand, is being increasingly seen as an effective strategy to engage with migrant communities and improve health outcomes. With specific cultural knowledge and understanding, CSWs act as a bridge between their ethnic community and healthcare services to improve cross-cultural interactions in the healthcare setting. As Aotearoa New Zealand becomes increasingly ethnically and linguistically diverse, the use of CSWs will become an integral part of the delivery of healthcare services. However, very little is currently known about the needs of these workers – the challenges of the role; their needs for appropriate training, support and supervision; and, how these can be met.
METHOD: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five CSWs employed in healthcare settings across the Auckland region. Interviews explored the experiences of CSWs, current training opportunities, availability of support and supervision, and future directions. Data were collected and a process of thematic analysis was used to identify key themes.
FINDINGS: Key issues identified from the study included the importance of cultural understanding in establishing rapport between health provider and health service users; the lack of a standardised and recognised role description; no specific training programme; and, limited professional development opportunities.
CONCLUSION: This study identified significant challenges for the CSW role but also describes a workforce committed to developing the role and optimistic about their ability to make a positive difference within the healthcare setting.
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