Cultural competence is a term that has been saturated in the news, in journals, and in the learning arena. But how does a nurse become culturally competent? Culturally competent care includes knowledge, attitudes, and skills that support caring for people across different languages and cultures.1 Culture influences not only health practices but also how the healthcare provider and the patient perceive illness.
Knowledge is being cognizant of the culture base of those in your service area, such as the shared traditions and values of that group. Being aware of your patients' ethnicity—common genetic elements shared by people of the same ancestry—is also important. For example, the epidemiology, manifestation of disease, and effects of medications vary in different ethnic groups. In fact, there's a whole area of study called ethnopharmacology that explores how different medications affect people from various ethnic groups.2 Research is also being conducted into how cultural beliefs impact medication choice and use.2
Next, it's important to address attitudes to evolve into a culturally competent caregiver. Becoming aware of how culture influences individual behavior and thinking allows you to plan the best care for your patients. Awareness of the rules of interactions within a specific cultural group, such as communication patterns and customs, division of roles in the family unit, and spirituality, will help you better understand the attitudes of your patients. Additionally, becoming aware of your own attitudes and tendencies to stereotype with regard to different cultural groups allows you to provide genuine care and concern.
Finally, you can develop a skill set that increases cultural competency. Learn ways of communicating that best allow your patient to understand the plan of care. For example, developing cultural competency skills can involve assisting non–English-speaking patients with a translator or changing the phrases and words you use when explaining care. It also involves learning to adapt to new and different situations in a flexible way. Remember that the hospital environment may not be familiar ground for your patients, especially when it's outside the realm of their cultural identity.
So when becoming a culturally competent nurse, remember:
- KNOWLEDGE: Acquire a knowledge base of cultures in your service area, especially in relation to healthcare practices and beliefs.
- ATTITUDE: Avoid making stereotypical assumptions about your patients' culture; become aware of your own biases and prejudices.
- SKILLS: Learn new communication skills to simplify language for any patient, regardless of primary language.
1. Seeleman C, Suurmond J, Stronks K. Cultural competence: a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Med Educ
2. Wessling S. Ethnopharmacology: what nurses need to know