When a patient refuses to take medication, insists on having a family member feed them or always has a lot of visitors, some nurses may interpret these actions as being noncompliant. However, these types of behaviors could be due to a patient’s cultural beliefs and values.
Immigrants value their individuality and cultural identities. To deliver appropriate health care to an increasingly diverse and multicultural population, nurses must be well-versed in the importance of culturally competent care.
The need to be culturally competent is crucial in today’s health care landscape. It will continue to be relevant, as the United States Census Bureau reports that an international migrant enters the country every 130 seconds. Health care professionals who don’t know how to provide culturally competent care run the risk of providing insufficient care.
Nurse practitioners can learn how to provide culturally competent care by gaining a deeper understanding of the concept and developing skills through an advanced nursing degree or certificate program.
What Is Culturally Competent Care?
Cultural competence refers to the behaviors and policies of a business, agency or system that allow for consistent, effective work in cross-cultural environments. The concept encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviors associated with the interpersonal communication styles, beliefs, customs, and values of various social, religious, ethnic, and racial groups.
To be culturally competent in healthcare, then, individuals must know how to deliver effective, efficient patient care within the context of their patients’ cultural backgrounds.
Taking into account the unique attributes of every person, culturally competent care has several key components, which include:
- Cultural awareness — analyzing one’s cultural and professional background through in-depth exploration and self-examination; gaining insight into cultural health care values and beliefs
- Cultural knowledge — looking for and gaining information about other cultures and ethnic groups; reading journal articles and textbooks, attending seminars and workshops, using internet resources and taking university courses
- Cultural skill — collecting patient data regarding the presenting problem and being able to perform a culturally specific assessment
- Cultural encounter — engaging in cross-cultural interactions with culturally diverse patients on an ongoing basis
- Cultural desire — being motivated to become culturally aware and seek out cultural encounters; being willing to respect and accept cultural differences; being willing to be open and to learn from others
Cultural Competence in Health Care
A key pathway to providing culturally competent health care is learning how behaviors are interpreted by people from different cultural backgrounds. Many cultural variations exist among different countries and continents.
To care for patients who are culturally different from them, nurse practitioners should consider the following tips:
- Don’t make assumptions. Patients from other parts of the world might not be familiar with certain types of diseases seen in the United States. Breast cancer, for instance, is practically unknown in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
- Explain every detail. Patients whose native language is not English may have a difficult time understanding medical jargon.
- Ask about alternative approaches to healing. People from many cultural backgrounds may use herbal remedies or other alternative treatments that could have a potentially harmful interaction with Western medicine.
- Withhold judgment. Some cultures place a high value on extended family members, who may fill a patient’s room, or on interdependence instead of independence when it comes to self-care routines such as bathing and eating.
- Accommodate and educate. Nurses may sometimes be able to teach patients about techniques or technologies that are at variance with the patient’s cultural beliefs, but they should also try to find culturally accommodating alternatives when possible.
Cultural competence also relates to diversity and inclusion in health care, which encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity. When caring for patients in the LGBTQ+ community, for example, nurses should learn more about sexual orientation and gender identity, including key definitions, as well as the potential health risks for those patients. They should also use inclusive and gender-neutral language and reflect the patient’s language.
For instance, avoid applying labels like “gay” because some members of the LGBTQ+ community do not self-identify with any particular label. When addressing a group of people, it’s also advisable to avoid terms that imply male or female identification like “ladies and gentlemen,” as some people may identify as nonbinary.
The Role of Nurses in Health Care
Nurses apply their knowledge and skills to deliver health care that can improve patient outcomes. Nurses use their judgment to integrate objective data about health and illness with personal observations of their patients to deliver the best care possible.
An important part of these judgment calls is approaching care from a cultural competency standpoint. Culturally competent nurses assess patients holistically, taking into account how cultural factors can make a difference in patients’ well-being. Cultural competency enables a high level of trust and rapport between nurse and patient, and this can support and inform care delivery strategies.
Ultimately, nurses who apply the principles of cultural competence can help improve patient outcomes.
Develop the Skills to Provide Culturally Competent Care
Cultural competence in health care makes a difference in patient care. Learning how to provide culturally competent care to all patients should be an ongoing process for nurses, enabling them to customize care for each patient based on a broad understanding and sincere appreciation of the rich diversity of humanity.
Duquesne University’s online post-master’s certificates in nursing can prepare you to provide consistent, culturally competent care to every patient. Our program can help you cultivate expertise in core areas such as pathophysiology, pharmacology and population-based health promotion, laying a solid foundation to support your nursing career.
Learn how we can help strengthen your nursing competence and prepare you to deliver compassionate, focused care to diverse patient populations.