nursing practice, cultural competenceCultural competence and respect for others becomes especially important for us in the nursing practice because we are patient advocates.

In school, we are taught to respect the rights and dignity of all patients. As the world becomes smaller and individuals and societies become more mobile, we are increasingly able to interact with individuals from other cultures.

How Culture Affects Healthcare

We all begin the process of learning the behaviors and beliefs of our culture at birth. We become assimilated into that culture and the way that we express is often without conscious thought. Our culture can have a definite and profound effect on how we interact with others, and also how we relate to the healthcare system.

Diversity is prevalent in our society and the patients and our co-workers in our healthcare system today clearly demonstrate that fact. The development of cultural competence in the nursing practice first requires us to have an awareness of the fact that many belief systems exist. At times, the healthcare practices of others may seem strange or meaningless. The beliefs that others have about medical care in this country, and sometimes their aversion to it, may be difficult for us to understand.

We must remember that we don’t need to understand these beliefs completely, but we do need to respect them.

Addressing Challenges to Cultural Competency

Barriers to cultural sensitivity in the nursing profession can include stereotyping, discrimination, racism, and prejudice. There are situations in which we may portray a lack of sensitivity without realizing it or intending to offend someone else. Simple steps such as addressing patients by their last name or asking how they wish to be addressed demonstrate respect.

Here are other simple ways to promote respect:

  • Never make assumptions about other individuals or their beliefs. Ask questions about cultural practices in a professional and thoughtful manner, if necessary.

  • Find out what the patient knows about health problems and treatments. Show respect for the patient's support group, whether it is composed of family, friends, religious leaders, etc.

  • Understand where men and women fit in the patient's society. In some cultures, the oldest male is the decision-maker for the rest of the family, even with regards to treatment decisions.

  • Most importantly, make an effort to gain the patient’s trust for a stronger nurse-patient relationship. This may take time, but all will benefit if this is accomplished. If the patient does not speak your language, attempt to find someone who can serve as an interpreter.

Cultural competence is the ability to provide effective care for patients who come from different cultures. It requires sensitivity and effective communication in nursing, both verbally and non-verbally.

In the Nursing Workplace

As a nurse, we are far from representative of the populations that we serve. Members of minorities make up only a small percentage of nurses in the U.S. This number has been estimated to be as low as ten percent.

The important issues of recruitment into the profession should specifically include efforts to recruit minorities and individuals from other cultures. When working with these individuals, the same principles apply as those listed above. Everyone should respect each other as a part of the healthcare team. After all, we are working towards the same goals of providing safe patient care.

Cultural sensitivity and cultural competence plays an important part in the nursing practice. Respect for others is discussed along with patient care in our basic introductory courses in school. It may have been a while since we heard how important it is in the development of an effective relationship, but unlike some aspects of the nursing practice, this will never change.