Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Sikhs: Summary

In a hurry? Here is a list of the top tips for making Sikh patients and staff feel cared for according to their cultural needs.


  • Sikhs cannot eat meat that has been prepared for Muslims or Jews. Many will prefer not to eat meat at all, and this may include eggs and fish. Offer a vegetarian menu or allow the patient to be fed by their visitors.
  • Cleanliness is important to the Sikh way of life. The preference is for washing in running water; if a shower is not available to patients, then a bowl and jug of water is acceptable.
  • Sikh patients may require help to wash, dry and comb their hair, which they must do on a regular basis.
  • Do not touch or remove any of the five Ks of an Amritdhari Sikh unless the patient has given you permission to do so. When removed, treat the object with great care; do not put it onto the floor or close to anyone's feet as this will be considered to be a grave insult. If the turban or headscarf is removed, offer patients an alternative covering such as a theatre cap.
  • Sikhs do not shave their beards or cut their hair - including body hair. If it is imperative for hair to be removed - for example, for an operation - explain this to the patient. If they allow hair to be removed, they might wish to have it returned to them for disposal.
  • Modesty is very important, and both men and women will wish to keep their heads covered as far as possible. Long hospital gowns that cover the entire body and do not gape at the back are preferred; if these are not available, then allow the patient to wear a shawl or dressing gown over a hospital gown.
  • Sikhs would prefer to be on single-gender wards wherever possible. In an emergency, Sikhs will recognise that they may have to be placed on a mixed ward, but attempts should be made to place them in a side room if available.
  • Family will expect to be involved in the decision-making processes relating to the diagnosis and treatment of their relatives, and will also expect to be able to care for their relative in hospital. Discuss care with the patient and their family to establish what they can do, and what they need to let healthcare staff do.
  • It is a duty to visit the sick whenever possible, and so a Sikh patient is likely to have many visitors. Make sure you can accommodate them.

healthcare staff

  • Allow Sikh staff to wear the five Ks with their uniform. If possible, consider a review of uniform design to accommodate the needs of ethnic staff such as Sikhs.
  • Make sure that vegetarian meals (containing no eggs or fish) are available to staff.
  • Although Sikhs do not have festival restrictions on their behaviour or diet, they may wish to have some quiet time during the day to pray and contemplate the name of God.
  • Tobacco and alcohol are taboo for Sikhs. When arranging staff events, ensure that alcohol is not the only drink available, and that smoking is carried out away from the main group.
  • Staff may prefer to treat patients of their own gender as far as possible.
  • Because Sikhs believe that human life is sacrosanct and begins at the moment of conception, they may not be comfortable having anything to do with terminations.