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Building Bridges, Building Connections Workshop


The provocative question posed by the seasoned facilitators at the opening of the Building Bridges, Building Connections workshop quickly engaged the diverse audience. “What differences make a difference?” Not an easy question but a very important one to launch the discussion. Coalition for Compassionate Care of California’s Lavera Crawley, MD MPH and Theresa Drought PhD, RN helped the workshop participants focus on the importance of recognizing our cultural differences and own invisible biases as we explore new ways to communicate the importance of palliative care throughout and between our organizations.

Compassionate Connections

The primary objectives for the day were to build bridges and create cultural awareness while facilitating connections between professionals providing palliative care and community members in the culturally diverse communities that form San Diego, southern Orange and southwestern Riverside counties. When you bring palliative care professionals together from organizations such as Elizabeth Hospice, LightBridge Hospice and Palliative Care, Vista Community Clinic, Scripps Health, Pacific Island Health Partnership, Indian Health Services, and others, compassionate connections happen and growing begins.

Here is what some of the day’s participants said:


“Great workshop! Thank you for the resources!”

“I was part of the afternoon session and thoroughly enjoyed the break out groups!”

 “Thank you for a great day!”

The one-day workshop at the Escondido Center for the Arts was well received by a wide variety of health care professionals with the common purpose of exploring how to improve communication with those from diverse communities dealing with complex medical issues. Helen McNeal, Executive Director of CSU’s Institute of Palliative Care at Cal State University San Marcos said, “Our two-part goal was to provide an opportunity to increase the awareness and cultural sensitivity of palliative care providers while   simultaneously fostering connections between those providers and members of the diverse communities we serve. From the feedback we’ve received so far, I believe we accomplished both,”

The Cultural Iceberg

The morning facilitators demonstrated how our cultural differences are much like oceanic icebergs. What is obvious above the waterline is explicitly learned and guides our conscious cultural decisions such as customs, symbols, traditions and artifacts. But what lies below the waterline is the larger portion of the cultural iceberg that often goes unheeded. The unconscious and implicitly learned cultural differences that are less obvious include things such as our assumptions, values, attitudes, and beliefs.

Dr. Crawley explained that the visible cultural norms above the waterline are what most of us base our daily decisions on. If we are to become better communicators with our diverse communities we must probe below the waterline and start to understand the deeper cultural aspects of our patient’s values and beliefs.  “We must see the diversity, within the diversity,” said Lavera Crawley. The more we recognize how our cultural attitudes and experiences of illness impact us, the more we can influence how caring is given and received. The morning session included a variety of exercises designed to get the participants to understand their own cultural point of view as well as those of others. The interactive process demonstrated how an individual’s own cultural history may be all but invisible to oneself.

Preview: The New Cultural Competency in Palliative Care Curriculum

After lunch we regrouped and presented a preview of new programs coming up this fall. The CSUSM Anthropology Department will be offering an exciting new online certificate in cultural competency for health service professionals. It will focus on helping providers understand and deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate health care.

This one-of-a-kind program will arm health care professionals with the skills and knowledge to best serve a diverse community of patients, including transnational migrants, farm laborers, indigenous communities, refugees, and special populations. It will focus not only on primary and preventative care but also chronic, palliative, and end-of-life care.

Bridge-Building Breakout Sessions

The discussion of the curriculum served as a jumping-off point for a discussion between all the participants of ways to better understand and serve the growing number of diverse cultures throughout Southern California. Coming together with representatives of the diverse communities, participants from provider organizations discussed some of the opportunities and challenges involved in providing care including language barriers, education levels, spiritual and religious beliefs, customs and traditions. An exchange of ideas took place as doctors, nurses, administrators, and community members realized the common ground we were all walking upon in our quest to help bring palliative care to everyone in the community.

McNeal said, “When connections are made at this level, we have an opportunity for hospice and palliative care staff and leadership to enhance their cultural sensitivity while opening more meaningful dialogue with community members.   Today’s workshop proves that when palliative care providers and community members come together and share, we can build stronger connections to everyone in our community.”

Interested in other courses, classes or having one of our team speak at your next event? Contact us.