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October 4, 2021

Nursing & Healthcare

Cultural Competence in Nursing

Doctor diagnose patient symptoms at the hospital

One of the most important things prospective nurses need to know about is health disparities and inequalities in nursing. The healthcare industry is currently going through a seismic shift in an effort to address health equity issues, creating a more level playing field for patients in need of care no matter their socioeconomic or racial background. Nurses are at the forefront of this change.

While the industry takes time and care in addressing systemic change, nurses can keep moving things forward by embracing cultural competence. In displaying inclusivity and awareness as part of an all-around approach to care, nurses can create an environment that helps bridge the healthcare gap for disadvantaged patients, supporting the overall goal of health equity.

What is Cultural Competence in Nursing?

Cultural competence in nursing encompasses a nurse’s capability to engage with patients who come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds where healthcare may be a challenge due to economic disparity, religious background, societal complications, and other potential barriers to care. This also means working with patients of different sexualities or genders.

By gaining a greater understanding of the barriers to care and learning more about the different cultures in the communities they serve, nurses can more effectively treat the patient as a whole and address any complications or issues with compassion. This can be especially helpful in dealing with patients whose belief systems may conflict with the need for medical care or those who may feel conflicted about Western medicine treatments. Knowing this, nurses can adapt their approach to give the patient the care that they need in a way that respects their culture and beliefs—which ultimately creates trust between patients and nurses.

Learning about cultural competence is key to the success of nurses, especially those who may be pursuing a degree. For students who are completing a nursing degree online, they’ll eventually have clinical placements where cultural competence will be needed to complete this part of their degree program and display their understanding of the tenets of nursing.

Cultural Competence Examples

There are many different ways for nurses to display cultural competence, including:

  • Using language and terms patients understand, creating a deeper connection with patients and helping them understand their care
  • Respecting patients’ cultural or religious values or beliefs, empowering them to feel in charge of their care protocols while honoring their backgrounds
  • Recruiting healthcare professionals from underrepresented communities so patients can choose to work with nurses or other medical professionals who better reflect their experiences
  • Identifying patients in underserved populations and communities in order to address gaps in care and ensure patients are getting the health and wellness support they need to thrive 
  • Promoting and coordinating cultural awareness measures to encourage other medical professionals to provide exceptional care to all patients
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What are Components of Culturally Competent Care?

Some medical fields more than others may emphasize the importance of culturally competent nursing, but there are key components to this approach that are applicable no matter which field a nurse works in. Nurses who are interested in embracing culturally competent care should focus on:

Awareness

Having awareness of oneself and one’s value system helps create a guidepost from which nurses can approach patient care. By addressing personal biases and exploring where they may have a shortsighted approach to patients from different cultural backgrounds, nurses can be proactive about addressing these biases and dismantle them to be a more effective caregiver to their patients. It can be difficult to admit a cultural blind spot, but doing so—and making a concerted effort to change—can make the job even more rewarding.

Understanding

By learning about and understanding the disparities and inequities in healthcare—and the world at large—nurses can offer more compassionate care and offer more effective treatment plans by addressing issues that may impact prescribed care. Similarly, understanding healthcare inequities that impact the world can also create more cultural understanding of patients and the challenges they face but may be uncomfortable discussing.

Sensitivity

Nurses can also create more opportunities for comprehensive patient care by exploring the cultural issues that impact the communities they serve. Being sensitive to a patient’s culture can create a more equitable healthcare experience by empowering the patient to be an active participant in their care and display the compassion and support needed to help the patient through their prescribed treatments.

Skills

Combining skills, sensitivity, and awareness gives nurses the skills needed to provide culturally competent care—and makes that care second nature. By understanding more about the cultures they serve and meeting patient’s needs on their terms, nurses can create a care partnership with their patients that’s built on trust. This can include knowing when and how to use nonverbal communication, understanding that different ethnicities may require different types of clinical care, and more.

How Can I Be a Culturally Competent Nurse?

In the simplest terms, being a culturally competent nurse is all about being a good nurse. Nurses can elevate their approach to patient care and become more culturally competent by:

Listening and Communicating

No matter how swamped a nurse may be or how urgent the need for medical care, having strong listening and communicating skills are important for creating an environment of culturally sensitive care. Patients both need and want to be heard, but they also need to understand their care instructions—and that their nurse understands their cultural or societal needs in relation to their care.

Reevaluating Your Perspective

Communities shift and change, and those dynamics can affect each culture within a community in a different way. The more that nurses can evolve their perspectives on the communities and cultures they serve, the more capable they are of handling health-related challenges with compassion.

Knowing Yourself and Your Own Biases

Even the best nurses can have blind spots, but the difference between a good nurse and a great nurse is a willingness to address their biases and grow from that knowledge. Doing so makes a nurse a more effective caregiver on every level.

Traveling and Working in Diverse Settings

Nurses who get out of their comfort zones and expose themselves to a variety of different communities and work settings can gain valuable exposure to different cultures. This doesn’t necessarily mean traveling to distant continents (though doing so is a transformative experience). Nurses can also explore working within or volunteering at different medical facilities in disadvantaged communities, rural settings, and more.

Utilizing Your Resources

Read whitepapers and studies on cultural differences in healthcare. Connect with other medical professionals who have experience with cultural competence. Even staying up to date on healthcare issues in the news can go a long way to helping nurses understand more about disparities in healthcare and how they can amend their approach to support patients of all kinds. 

From nurses of all kinds to nursing students who are preparing to enter the workforce, cultural competence in nursing should be an integral part of every nurse’s approach to patient care. In an unbalanced healthcare environment, it can make all the difference.

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