Sikhism and Patient Care

Oct 06, 2022

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I could preach all day long. But if I don’t take a stand for change, then nothing’s going to happen.

Taranjeet Rathore

In 2015, Taranjeet Rathore, BSN, RN, PHN, moved to the United States from India as a high school junior. Although the move was a culture shock, he's worked to forge connections and understanding through his nursing work, including advocating for safe, respectful care for patients of the Sikh faith.

"Nurses just follow doctors."

These words shook Taranjeet Rathore, especially since they were spoken by a physician who shared his Indian background. Although he originally wanted to become a doctor (and is often mistaken for one), Taranjeet was inspired to change the mentality that only women should be nurses and that nurses take a backseat in patient care.

"I could preach all day long," he says, "but if I don't take a stand for change, then nothing's going to happen." Taranjeet wants to stand up for other South Asian men who might want to enter nursing but feel oppressed by the culture. As a nurse, he says, "I am the patient's eyes." He and his nursing colleagues take active roles in patient assessment and advocacy.

A practicing Sikh, Taranjeet considers his faith fundamental to his care of patients. Sikhism emphasizes service to others and honest work. Living faithfully has helped him cultivate empathy and compassion, which are important assets for any nurse.

Being a Sikh nurse has had its challenges, too. Taranjeet's beard, an article of faith, prevents his ability to wear an N95 mask. He has to rely on powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) for full coverage, but in order to use them, he must remove his turban, another article of faith.

"It's so degrading for me to take off my turban," Taranjeet thought during his 2021 externship at Kaiser Permanente. The experience made him reflect on what Sikh patients must endure, especially when few on a hospital staff understand the Sikh belief system. For example, standard care for angina calls for shaving a patient's chest, but because hair is an article of faith, shaving can be psychologically and spiritually damaging to a Sikh patient's well-being. Another challenge is that individuals baptized in the Sikh faith often carry a ceremonial weapon called a kirpan. When these patients present to the emergency department seeking care, they may be met by hospital security instead.

Taranjeet worked to educate his colleagues throughout Kaiser Permanente. He explained the three pillars of the Sikh religion and its five articles of faith. According to Guru Granth Sahib Ji (The Holy Book), the kirpan is only to be used in self-defense to protect the honor of the self and others.

"A lot of people thought [Sikhism] was a part of Hinduism or Islam," Taranjeet recalls. "They were shocked to know that this is a different religion and pleased to learn about this history. There was a lot of curiosity."

Taranjeet discussed how to engage a Sikh patient and explain the necessity of shaving or removing articles of faith before surgery. This presentation inspired a nationwide policy change at Kaiser campuses to allow an individual to wear a ceremonial weapon as an expression of religious faith. In January 2022, he and two co-authors published "Hospitalization and Religion: Ensuring Safe Passage for the Sikh Patient" in Clinical Nurse Specialist.

Today, Taranjeet works in the thoracic vascular surgery ICU at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He continues to broaden cultural awareness as a diversity champion, teaching colleagues about Sikhism and other faiths.

Taranjeet is preparing to apply to Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) schools with the goal of working with pregnant patients. "My mother was in labor for almost 60 hours," he says. "It was in a village in India with no doctors. The midwives would fire shots into the air to scare her so I might come out." Her experience was part of Taranjeet's motivation to enter healthcare and why he has volunteered over 300 hours as a doula. "I wanted to give back to the moms," he reflects, "and when I do become a CRNA, I want to do mother/baby care, labor, C-sections, that kind of anesthesia."

Taranjeet is drawn to the field of anesthesia because he wants to be the manager of an operating room. "That responsibility and that feeling of wanting to give back to the community is what drives me," he says.

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