Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Sikhs: Issues For Sikh Healthcare Staff

Sikhism is a very tolerant religion that has few absolute taboos. Human life is seen as sacrosanct, and there is a duty to preserve human life as far as possible that ties in well with the medical ethic. However, a few problems may arise.

dress and uniform

An Amritdhari Sikh (baptised into the Khalsa) must wear their five Ks at all times, including the turban and small sword (kirpan); their right to carry a kirpan is covered under the Race Relations Act. Make sure that a suitably amended uniform is available for new Sikh staff, or that they are permitted to adapt their uniform themselves. Be aware that the distinct features of a Sikh uniform, such as the turban, may open up Sikh staff to more frequent racial abuse from patients than other staff, and make sure that Sikh staff are supported accordingly in the workplace.

termination of pregnancy

Human life is sacrosanct from the moment of conception until death. Because of this, Sikh law states that termination is prohibited. Sikh staff may not be comfortable with being associated in any way with the practice of termination, although they may be prepared to observe the procedure during training.

treating the opposite gender

Exceptionally orthodox Sikh staff may be more comfortable treating patients of their own gender, particularly if any kind of intimate physical examination or discussion is needed. However, in an emergency or when staff numbers are low, most Sikhs will be prepared to treat either gender.

treating those suffering from drug or alcohol abuse

Narcotics and tobacco are taboo in the Sikh life, and cannot be brought into a gurdwara. Despite their tolerant attitude, some Sikh staff may have an unsympathetic attitude to patients whose conditions are caused by lifestyle choices such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and also homosexuality. Staff may feel that they cannot treat these patients with the same sympathy as the 'deserving' ill and will therefore need to be supported.

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