Dr. Roberto Dansie is the keynote speaker on March 23 for The Power of Cultural Diversity Conference at Briar Cliff University.
With a jovial personality as colorful as the Toltec medicine necklace he often wears around his neck, Dr. Roberto Dansie is an easy man to like.
Describing what he does, on the other hand, is a more difficult task.
Is he an author? musician? Martial arts champion? A Mayan medicine man, with a degree in clinical psychology?
“I’m all of the above,” Dansie says with a laugh. “My father was Irish-American, and my mother was Mexican. … When you put Irish and Mexican together — this is what you get.”
It’s diverse background befitting of someone who speaks about “cultural wisdom” for a living. And Dansie, a nationally renowned motivational speaker (just one more thing to add to the list), will deliver the keynote address on March 23 during the Power of Cultural Diversity Conference at Briar Cliff University.
If a patient feels distant, to them it doesn’t matter if you’re competent in your medical skills — they will still not fully follow your advice.
—Dr. Roberto Dansie
The conference is designed to promote culturally responsive health care for professionals in Siouxland. This is part of a larger trend at Briar Cliff to emphasize cultural competence in all health care curriculums.
“What we’ve been doing mostly in our history of modern medicine is focusing on the illness and the symptoms,” Dansie said. “And that’s important – but we’re also finding out that this is still incomplete.”
That’s because the most basic ingredient in quality health care, he says, is the connection providers make with their patients — one that’s often absent when it comes to patients with diverse backgrounds.
For example, Dansie says, a provider might not have access to a translator for a patient who speaks a different language. Or specific treatments a doctor prescribes might be frowned upon in some cultures. In others, like the Native American culture, “medicine” can have a broader definition entirely.
“Native American communities, they have a much larger definition of what medicine is,” Dansie says. “It’s anything that makes me feel well. A prayer can be medicine, an elder giving words of compassion … falling in love is medicine.”
Buying into every culture’s beliefs isn't what’s important for health care providers, Dansie says. What’s important is striving to understand patients, which builds trust – which research has shown then leads to better health care results.
“If a patient feels distant, to them it doesn’t matter if you’re competent in your medical skills — they will still not fully follow your advice,” Dansie says. “Or even worse, they’ll feel like the provider is taking advantage of them.”
He isn’t alone in his thinking. In fact, “culturally appropriate” health care is now a national standard of care, set forth by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
“We see too often that medical providers are not responding to the expectations and mindsets of patients of different cultures,” Dansie says. “When they do, it will be the real ‘open sesame’ moment in the world of health care.”
If you go:
WHAT: The Power of Cultural Diversity Conference
WHEN: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., March 23
WHERE: Briar Cliff University
Dansie experienced his own ‘open sesame’ moment many years ago, well before he became a trained clinical psychologist at the University of Guadalajara; and also well before he competed — and won — at the 1981 world championship of martial arts in Pussan, Korea (he still coaches the sport).
No, this happened when he was 13 years old, before he left home in Mexico, when Dansie’s grandmother — a Mayan medicine woman — took him on as an apprentice.
“She taught me the language, and her incredibly beautiful way in which she would bond with her patients — that shaped my mind,” Dansie says. “I got to see two main ways of doing medicine: the scientific, objective, cold, analytical way; and the more impactful, inclusive, holistic approach of Mayan medicine.”
He’s been trying to bridge the gap ever since.
Dansie founded his company, Cultural Wisdom, in 1998, and has spent the past two decades criss-crossing the country, giving health care professionals a “crash course in culture.” He has worked with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and multiple surgeon generals in the area of cultural competence, and has received the National Award for Community Development from the Department of Health.
Those qualifications make Dansie the perfect keynote speaker for the March 23 conference, according to Susan Beidler — the event organizer and chair of the Department of Nursing at Briar Cliff.
Beidler heard about Dansie through a colleague, who’d attended one of the motivational speaker’s workshops in another state.
“She texted me, right in the middle of her conference, and said, ‘This speaker is unbelievable,’” Beidler recalls. “So I immediately went on the web and Googled him — and I found the perfect fit for our first cultural conference.”
The cost to attend the March 23 conference is $60 (with a reduced price for BCU students, faculty and preceptors). The event will also feature other health care professionals from the region, along with a panel of diverse patients who will recall real-life challenges they’ve faced while seeking care in Siouxland.
The conference is supported, in part, by an Advanced Nursing Education grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Continuing education unit (CEU) credits will be available for health care and social work professionals. Online registration is available.
“We want to inspire and acknowledge the wonderful diversity that we have in our area,” Beidler says. “And, make sure we’re doing the best we can to meet the needs of our diverse population.”