Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Muslims: Issues For Muslim Healthcare Staff

working with the opposite gender

Some more traditional Islamic healthcare staff may feel uncomfortable examining or dealing with patients of the opposite gender. Where possible, allow them to attend to same-gender patients. However, if the staff member is an expert or you are short-staffed, care of the opposite gender becomes a necessity and so is allowable.

When working with staff members of the opposite gender, Muslim women may be quiet and reserved. This is not a sign of anything other than adherence to traditions of how to behave in the presence of men.

fasting and working

Muslim healthcare staff are not exempt from fasting during Ramadan, and so will not consume food or liquid between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Discuss with your staff what shifts they would prefer to work during this period, and make sure that if they have any problems (such as feeling faint) that they are able to take a break.

prayer and working

Muslims perform salat or prayer five times a day and will need to take about ten minutes each time to do so. Discuss any issues with a new member of staff, such as where they are likely to be when praying and any procedure for letting people know that they are going to carry out their prayer.


Female Muslim staff must be allowed to wear a headscarf and long sleeves if they wish to follow hijab (the rules of dress for Muslims). A compromise may be to allow them to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt under a short-sleeved uniform, or a long-sleeved cardigan over the top of such a uniform. Women who have been born in this country are usually accustomed to wearing long skirts or trousers that cover their ankles to meet standards of modesty. Consider a comprehensive redesign of the standard uniform to allow for cultural clothing requirements.

contact with unclean substances

Before prayer, a Muslim will need to complete wudu, a ritual washing of their hands, face and feet that cleans the soul as well as the body. Because this ritual is performed before every prayer, any contamination with unclean substances will be removed. However, staff may prefer to wear disposable gloves when cleaning up bodily fluids, and disposable aprons must be made available so that their clothing is not dirtied. Medications that contain alcohol – a forbidden substance and haram – may represent another category of unclean substances that Muslim healthcare staff are reluctant to dispense. An individual must make up their own mind as to how to handle this circumstance.

medical students and dissection

Because of the Islamic belief that desecration is an appalling thing to happen to your body after death, Muslims will generally not be happy when faced with the task of dissecting a body. Under duress, Muslim students would be allowed to dissect a non-Muslim body, preferably one of the same gender as themselves. Muslim students are not permitted to dissect pigs or dogs because of their unclean status (this mainly applies to veterinary students).

physical examinations

Muslim members of staff may feel uncomfortable conducting intimate physical examinations on members of the opposite gender. If at all possible, allow them to treat patients of their own gender; however they must accept that if they are an expert in their field, or they are the only person available, that they may have to carry out an examination. Wearing disposable gloves will at least prevent direct contact with the examinee.

clinical history

Muslim members of staff may feel uncomfortable taking an intimate clinical history from a member of the opposite gender, but as a member of the medical profession it is inevitable that they will need to discuss intimate matters at some point. As far as possible, allow them to work with patients of their own gender, but they will need to bear in mind their medical responsibilities to treat all patients equally.

termination of pregnancy

For Muslims, termination is forbidden except in rare and extreme circumstances. Medical students and new members of staff may have issues arising from this conflict, or may refuse to work with termination cases.

With all of these issues, it is important that you discuss with your staff (or with your manager) any issues that may arise so that a consistent level of healthcare can be offered to the public at the same time as upholding the cultural beliefs of healthcare staff.