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Teaching Cultural Humility in Healthcare with the First Nations Health Authority

Sep 11, 2019 By Crissy Campbell

Written by Mohamad El Taki.

Team Reach is comprised of Kavya Satyakumar, Victor Andrey, Jennifer McFarlane, Hong Sun, Johnson Song, and Mohamad El Taki, with guidance from faculty advisor Robyn Sussel. This was a project done with MDM alumni John Pantherbone from the First Nations Health Authority.


How would it feel to be dismissed, ridiculed and rejected when you’re sick and in need of medical attention? How would it feel if the pain you felt was ridiculed and reduced to a mere act that you were putting on? What if the people inflicting this on you are the exact health care practitioners that are supposed to be treating you with dignity and respect?

This is a reality that our client, the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) has to deal with on a daily basis. As a first province-wide health authority of its kind in Canada, the FNHA is the leading health and wellness partner of over 200 First Nations communities across British Columbia. Out of a vast list of initiatives and programs, the FHNA is heavily invested in raising awareness and promoting action towards reducing discrimination in healthcare settings, a problem that affects countless lives and experiences of First Nations people across the entire country.

The FNHA communications team, led by MDM alumni John Pantherbone, approached us with an initial brief of building a platform to allow healthcare practitioners to pledge their commitment to Cultural Humility. We felt honoured to be a part of contributing a solution that had a real tangible impact on people’s lives and well-being, and the entire team was aligned and charged with a refreshing sense of purpose towards this opportunity.

Our first week we spent listening, learning, reading and assimilating information. Using materials provided by the FHNA, public resources and secondary research we dove into the policy documents and strategies that were outlined as part of the broader initiative. The FNHA’s goal is to raise awareness for Cultural Humility in healthcare at a variety of different levels and hierarchies. We also conducted contextual research and visited common healthcare facilities to observe the environments and the interactions that occur. 

During our research, we started noticing patterns and common themes that allowed us to organize the information into more modular derivatives. This led us to a gradual, yet refreshing understanding of Cultural Humility as intended by the FNHA. The term can be explained as one’s willingness to suspend any preconceived notions of another culture. This can be achieved by being comfortable with not knowing and being completely open to learning how others see and synthesise the world.

After grasping the conceptual framework, we reframed the problem and deduced that the real value we brought as a team did not lie in only building a pledge website as a standalone product. But that our value was in leveraging existing tools and using our combined skills to provide the FNHA with a comprehensive communications strategy that introduced the concept of Cultural Safety and Humility in a digestible and easy to understand manner. Only by ensuring users understand what they are pledging for, can they truly make an informed commitment to taking action.

This reframing was a turning point that guided the communication strategy and set the direction for our final deliverables. We came up with a 3-step system that encouraged understanding prior to pledging commitment:

Acknowledge: Through the use of clear and digestible definitions of the problem. We achieved this by using video as a storytelling tool to create an emotional connection with the users and to encourage them to learn more about the problem space.

Learn More: Our microsite was designed to inform and to provide a learning pathway for further learning and extensive reading. From the video script to the landing page, and the sub-pages–we were consistent in our attempt to really help people connect and understand the problem they were pledging to help solve.

Take Action: We also created and outlined a follow-up communications plan to stress the importance of lifelong learning. By clarifying to healthcare practitioners that pledging is merely symbolic and not real action, we reaffirm the need for real and tangible actions and point them to the right resources accordingly.

The microsite that the team built to teach Cultural Humility to healthcare workers.

Overall, this was an incredible experience that imparted deep, and lasting lessons for every single member of our team. We learned to come together, to be honest, open and to foster a positive attitude towards communication, planning and production. 

We learned to grow our compassion in a world that needs it more than anything else. Today, discrimination towards First Nations people still exists on a systemic, individual and cultural level. Instead of treating people with dignity, respect and care – our healthcare systems are continuing to perpetuate a hostile environment that discourages people from seeking care in the first place. 

This project was our way of contributing to the solution. We are honoured to have been a part of this, and we cherish all the lessons that we will take with us to our coming industry experiences.


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