Khlood Salman became a strong advocate for better healthcare for Muslims in the U.S. after finding out shortly after graduating from nursing school that three of her young Muslim friends had breast cancer.
In her native Iraq, there is little focus on preventive screening, and women have scant awareness of the need for screening. Plus, it was culturally challenging for U.S. healthcare providers to talk with Muslim women about tests for breast and cervical cancer. Such tests are considered sensitive in a culture that shields women's bodies from display or examination.
Salman, a devout Muslim who now teaches nursing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, vowed to address the issue. She wants hospitals to work more closely with mosques and Islamic community groups to reach out to Muslims so they're more aware of the importance of preventive care. “I believe in God, in Allah,” she says. “Although this is their faith, I said to myself, 'They did not know anything about how to take care of their breasts,' and I talked with these people and thought, how do we do this, where do we go from here?”
Her wishes are coming true. U.S. healthcare providers increasingly are focusing on how to better serve the nation's growing Muslim population, a significant percentage of which follows religious rules that can pose challenges in healthcare settings.
Accommodating Muslim patients is particularly a concern for providers in communities with greater concentrations of Muslims, such as areas in and around Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and New York City. System leaders see a financial opportunity in becoming known as culturally sensitive, high-quality providers for the Muslim community. That's because the U.S. Muslim population had swollen to 2.6 million by 2010, up 53% from 1.7 million in 2000, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. The number is projected to increase to 4.2 million in 2020 and 6.2 million in 2030.
Hospitals increasingly are serving food that meets Muslim dietary rules, particularly no pork products. They're offering Muslim patients alternatives to medications that contain alcohol or pork-derived gelatin. They're implementing sensitivity training to better educate workers about traditions and customs. Addressing Muslim rules for female modesty is also part of the training. Offering modesty gowns is a sign of cultural sensitivity. These gowns are longer than normal gowns, extending to the ankle, with snaps instead of ties in the back.
One example of the challenge of accommodating Muslim patients' religious practices comes during the month-long holiday Ramadan, which requires fasting from dawn to sunset. That could be problematic for diabetics if they can't take insulin during the day. Educating caregivers about Muslim practices encourages clinicians to develop treatment plans that allow the patients to observe the holiday. During Ramadan, which ends Aug. 7 this year, hospitals are scheduling more early morning or night appointments to accommodate patients.
But hospitals can't make assumptions about what all Muslim patients and families want. So they're hiring more staff members who speak Arabic and Urdu. Some are making prayer rugs available and setting space aside for prayer rooms. In addition, more hospitals are making Muslim chaplains available to patients.