One size fits all? The discursive framing of cultural difference in health professional accounts of providing cancer care to Aboriginal people

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Objectives: Cancer is the second biggest killer of Aboriginal Australians. For some cancers, the mortality rate is more than three times higher in Aboriginal people than for non-Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal Patterns of Cancer Care Study explored barriers to and facilitators of cancer diagnosis and treatment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales. Design: Our team – which includes both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers – conducted in-depth interviews between 2009 and 2010 with Aboriginal people with cancer, their carers and health professionals who care for them. In this paper we identify recurrent patterns of ‘discursive framing’ in the 16 interviews with health care professionals. We are particularly interested in how these frames assisted participants in constructing a professional position on what ‘cultural difference’ means for the design and delivery of cancer care services to Aboriginal people. Results: Despite geographical, organizational, disciplinary and cultural diversity, these interview participants consistently drew upon six discursive frames, which we have interpreted as either eliding a discussion of difference (‘everyone is the same’ and ‘everyone is different’) or facilitating that discussion (‘different priorities’, ‘different practices’, and ‘making difference safe’). An additional strategy appeared to actively resist either of these positions but then tended to ultimately prioritise the eliding frames. Conclusions: While none of our participants were dismissive of the idea that cultural identity might matter to Aboriginal people, their reliance upon familiar narratives about what that means for cancer care services has the potential to both symbolically and practically exclude the voices of a group of people who may already feel disenfranchised from the mainstream health care system. Critically unpacking the ‘taken for granted’ assumptions behind how health care professionals make sense of cultural difference can enrich our understanding of and response to the care needs of indigenous people affected by cancer.
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Newman, Christy
Gray, Rebecca
Brener, Loren
Jackson, L. Clair
Johnson, Priscilla
Saunders, Veronica
Harris, Magdalena
Butow, Phyllis
Treloar, Carla
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