Impact Lives

Cultural Competency in Nursing Practice

Nursing practice is comparable to a puzzle, a multilayered culture of health care practice that modifies itself with every interaction. Is nursing not a philosophy, a collection and sharing of values, beliefs, principles and dare I say its own language that guides all those who choose to identify with it? Yes. But just like any other culture that wants to survive and flourish comes the issue of preservation when it tries to exist in a society that is not familiar with its customs. In this current climate of globalization, it is not ideal to separate from what is familiar and assimilate in order to thrive. There needs to be a balance. Nursing practice does not and should not have the luxury of segregation in order to preserve its values but instead integrate and collaborate when it comes to providing quality health care to multicultural societies.

In a recent blog, I explored the evolution of nursing and an ethical principle of advocacy. In order to effectively advocate for an individual and promote health and prevention activities, a nurse must first consider the characteristics of the individual or group. However, despite the many changes that health care has implemented health disparities continue to exist and in some areas have worsened. Consider what is happening in the world and particularly here in the United States (U.S.) in terms of globalization. The U.S. is no longer considered a melting pot. It is not necessary or seen as beneficial for immigrants to assimilate to their host country; rather many families can make a conscience decision to integrate and preserve their cultural health practices and customs. However, with that shift from assimilation to integration, we must now consider globalization and cultural competency as yet another vital layer to this puzzle of nursing practice.

Multicultural societies pose many challenges to the achievement of health equity due to the variety of health care needs and languages. Health care professionals need to pay close attention to diverse groups of individuals as they are at greatest risk for health disparities. Diverse groups may face discrimination, have fewer resources, and may lack the accessibility and understanding of available health care resources. Health services for multicultural societies are greatly underutilized due to cultural and linguistic barriers. This is where the notion of culturally competent nursing care will prove to be the most beneficial when caring for diverse groups of individuals.

There are many factors that a nurse must consider in order to deliver culturally competent care. Nurses should evaluate their own biases, beliefs, and values prior to working with any group of individuals. Consider your existing stereotypes and myths of particular groups so that it will assist to achieve your goals of health promotion and not impede them. Cultural competence is not any easy feat; rather it is an ongoing learning process. By understanding how you identify and how this self-awareness impacts your nursing care abilities, only then will you develop the respect and skills necessary to reduce the inequities that exist in health care. Culturally competent care is not just acquiring information on a particular group of people but rather developing a respect for and understanding that the beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, language, and rituals of that group all play a role. For example, it can be integral to the healing process if it is understood that a curandero can aid in medication regime adherence for a patient of Latin decent. In addition to this knowledge and respect, effective communication and collaboration between the nurse (and other health care professionals involved) and that specific population will persist if it includes information and services in that language and at the literacy level of that population. All of these components encompass the concept of cultural competence and without it; strategies to promote health and decreasing health inequities among diverse populations are futile.

Education is imperative in addition to self-awareness. A successful nursing program will assist nurses to gain and have a better understanding of what it means to be a culturally competent health care professional, cultural globalization, how this impacts nursing practice, and strategies to incorporate culturally appropriate interventions. Benedictine University’s MSN Program leads to an increased understanding of the interplay between cultural beliefs about health and illness and the importance of interprofessional collaboration to achieve health promotion in diverse populations.

About the Author

Dr. Jasmin Whitfield RN, MSN, MPH, DNP is an adjunct faculty member in the online MSN program at Benedictine University. Her extensive background includes progressive administrative roles in acute rehabilitation services and community health nursing. In addition, Dr. Whitfield is currently accountable for the oversight and organization of the Health Services Department at Sidwell Friends School’s D.C. campus including but not limited to health and wellness promotion and outreach and developing and managing occupational health and safety education, policies, and programming for students and employees. To learn more about Dr. Jasmin Whitfield please visit our online nursing degree faculty section.