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Dialogue circles build bridges between nursing students, communities of color

By Addy Hatch, WSU News

Communication between a nurse and a patient carries assumptions and beliefs on both sides.

When that nurse is a student and the “patient” is the leader of a racial or ethnic minority group, the barriers to effective communication can be high.

Connie Kim Yen Nguyen‑Truong, an assistant professor at the WSU College of Nursing in Vancouver, recently led an innovative communications process designed to help bridge those barriers. The teaching‑learning strategy was co‑authored by Michelle Closner, a PhD student at the WSU College of Nursing, and Roschelle “Shelly” Fritz, an assistant professor at the college. It has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Nursing Education.

Called “culturally safe didactic dialogue circles,” the method relies on a five‑step process led by nursing faculty and cultural community leaders.

Participants are expected to consider the needs and values of all parties. The structured dialogue begins with an opening ceremony acknowledging a commitment to shared goals. Remarks are preceded by a symbolic gesture like a nod or a bow, with nursing faculty acting as the keeper of the dialogue circle. A closing ceremony reaffirms the parties’ interconnectedness.

This process “uplifts and elevates what it means to have a conversation around difficult and painful topics,” Nguyen‑Truong said. “It doesn’t seem like the student is only here because it’s their course and then they’ll be done and gone. Students, cultural community leaders, and faculty are all stakeholders.”

Lessons learned through the dialogue circles can be translated by students later to healthcare settings, or to group undertakings like board meetings, she said.

Students who took part in this learning strategy reflected on the process, and revealed greater understanding of the communities of color, the authors said.

Using culturally safe dialogue circles could make all participants comfortable enough that “research collaborations that include students can be maintained, and students can grow in their knowledge of community and community‑engaged research processes,” the authors conclude.

The journal article is titled, “Culturally Safe Didactic Dialogue Circles: Student and Cultural Community Leader Engagement,” by Connie Kim Yen Nguyen‑Truong, PhD, RN, (Alumnus PCCN), WSU College of Nursing Vancouver; Michelle Closner, MN, RN, PhD candidate, WSU College of Nursing; Roschelle L. Fritz, PhD, RN, WSU College of Nursing Vancouver.

Connie Kim Yen Nguyen‑Truong and community partners Chiao‑Yun Hsiao and Victoria Demchak were awarded the R. Davilene Carter Presidential Prize for best manuscript from the American Association for Cancer Education this fall. See information on the WSU Nursing website.

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