Building Cultural Awareness for Improved Patient Care

By Maryanne Matthews - May 22, 2019


Cultural awareness, sensitivity, and respect contribute to positive patient experiences and outcomes. Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is providing Indigenous cultural awareness education to staff, physicians and volunteers as part of our commitment to creating an environment where Indigenous patients and families feel more comfortable.  

“Cultural awareness within health care helps create a safe space for open communication. When patients feel that health care providers respect their culture, they are likely to communicate more freely,” said Crystal Pirie, Senior Director of Indigenous Collaboration.  “Our Hospital offers cultural awareness education so that we can provide care to Indigenous patients and families that is respectful of their diverse backgrounds, values, and traditions.”

Hospital leadership participated in an Indigenous trauma informed workshop that invited them to actively engage in a journey of experiential learning, self-exploration and awareness development. Audrey Gilbeau, Executive Director of Nokiiwin Tribal Council, lead the workshop and shared foundational teachings from Indigenous knowledge to enhance individual and organizational practices, and to foster trust and mutually respectful relationships based on shared values.

The Hospital also provides Indigenous cultural awareness education to all staff, physicians and volunteers as part of the Respect project. Initiatives include an online webinar and discussion-based team workshops that encourage people to challenge their own beliefs and biases through increased self-awareness.

“The training really gave me insight into Canada’s true history with regards to Indigenous people, the many impacts of colonialism and intergenerational trauma, and how those impacts still exist and impact our own personal biases and behaviours,” said Tracey Hill, Interprofessional Educator at the Hospital. “I walked away with knowledge that has opened my eyes and changed my perspective about the system we live and work in. As health care workers, this knowledge is especially important and will help transform our organization to be more understanding, and to treat all patients and families with compassion and empathy.”

Cultural awareness is valuable for health care professionals, health care organizations, and patients and families. Benefits include increased mutual respect between health care workers and patients, increased trust, and promotion of patient responsibility and empowerment in their own health care.

“Becoming culturally aware and sensitive is an ongoing journey and an important part of our commitment to provide health care that respects traditional knowledge and practices. The goal is to build our Hospital as a leader in the provision of health care for Indigenous patients and families,” said Pirie.

For more information about Indigenous health care at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, visit

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