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RN, author draws on mixed-race heritage

Taking time to learn about patient backgrounds can help RNs provide better care

Friday February 28, 2014
Cathy Tashiro, RN
Cathy Tashiro, RN
(Photo courtesy of Universasity of Washington)
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Cathy Tashiro, RN, MPH, PhD, associate professor emeritus for the University of Washington Tacoma’s nursing and healthcare leadership program, and author of the book “Standing on Both Feet: Voices of Older Mixed Race Americans,” encourages nurses to get to know patients on individual levels without any preconceptions.

“People share their deepest pains and emotions with us,” Tashiro said. “It’s really important for us to understand the complexity of where different people are coming from.”

It is especially important as the U.S. population becomes more diverse for RNs to have a deeper understanding of patients’ backgrounds, experiences and cultures, Tashiro said.

U.S. mixed-race statistics

Americans who identified themselves as being of mixed race increased 32 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Tashiro's heritage

Tashiro, born to a white mother and Japanese-American father, became interested in the issue of mixed race and identity while working in community health early in her career. After graduating from nursing school in 1973, she worked at a community clinic and emergency department in Oakland, Calif., where many of her patients were African-American. In 1977, she did her preceptorship on a Native American reservation in Tucson, Ariz., as part of a family nurse practitioner training program.

Although she loved the opportunities nursing presented to become immersed in different cultures, she began to wonder where she fit in as someone from a mixed-race background.

“One of the things that always comes up for people who are mixed — because we’re such a race-conscious society — is identity,” Tashiro said. “My book focuses a lot on how people establish identity. It’s really important for people working with mixed populations to not force them to have to choose one side.”

As a nurse, she said her mixed-race heritage has helped provide a broader perspective, making her more sensitive to different patients’ needs and cultures.
Taking time to talk with patients on a more intimate level and empathize with their situations can help nurses address healthcare disparities, Tashiro said.

“I always say, ‘Context is everything,’” Tashiro said. “If you’re trying to tell someone to exercise more and they’re poor and live in a high-crime neighborhood, they’re not going to want to walk out on the street. Sometimes as healthcare professionals we can get very judgmental about people not living more healthy.”

Research findings

Among the most significant findings in her research was that in terms of race, age and history matter. Her parents married in a time when interracial marriage was illegal in several states.

“Most people, especially younger people, don’t know the history of race in the United States and how we came to be where we are,” Tashiro said. “In order to understand where we are regarding race, we really need to understand where we come from.”

Christine Stevens, RN, PhD, associate professor in the nursing and healthcare leadership program at the University of Washington Tacoma, said she uses Tashiro’s book as part of her curriculum. Tashiro’s work is pivotal for changing how nurses approach patients and their families, she said.

“If nurses are culturally humble about what they know, the care becomes better, the relationship becomes better,” Stevens said. “They can have a discussion and a partnership with the patient.”

Everyone has biases to some degree, Tashiro said. “The most important thing is for people to become aware of their own biases and aware of history,” Tashiro said. “The more nurses become aware, the better human care we’ll give.”


Geneva White-Slupski is a freelance writer. Post a comment below or email editorWest@nurse.com.