Cultural competency and its use in nursing practice

Healthcare is ever-evolving, but the role of nurses in providing patient-centered care remains paramount. To deliver effective and compassionate care, nurses must embrace cultural competency. This article delves into the world of cultural competency, exploring its significance in nursing practice and offering practical guidance for its integration into daily routines.

Understanding cultural competency

Cultural competency isn’t just about recognizing cultural differences; it’s the skill of effectively engaging with individuals from diverse backgrounds and respecting their unique beliefs, values and customs as well as any social determinants of health. In nursing, it’s an essential attribute for providing equitable and patient-centered care.

Why cultural competency matters in nursing

Trust forms the bedrock of quality healthcare, and patients are more likely to trust healthcare professionals who understand and respect their cultural perspectives. This trust is pivotal in establishing strong patient-nurse relationships.

Effective communication lies at the core of nursing practice. Building cultural competency provides nurses with the means to gracefully navigate potential language barriers and make sure patients understand clear and precise information about their care, treatment choices and medical decisions.

Extensive health inequalities persist among diverse racial and ethnic groups, a fact well-documented in healthcare. Building cultural competency gives nurses the ability to tackle these disparities head-on by delving into the distinctive health requirements and hurdles faced by various communities. This knowledge enables them to customize care plans to suit each patient’s unique needs.

Patient outcomes are closely tied to their engagement in healthcare. When patients feel respected and understood, they are more likely to adhere to treatment plans and follow medical advice, ultimately leading to improved health outcomes.

Developing cultural competency

Cultural competency is a skill that can be developed over time through self-reflection, education and practical application. Here are some strategies nurses can employ to enhance their cultural competency:

  • Self-assessment

Before caring for patients from diverse backgrounds, nurses must examine their own biases and assumptions. Self-assessment involves reflecting on one’s cultural beliefs and values, recognizing personal biases, and being open to learning from diverse experiences.

  • Education and training

Actively seeking opportunities to undertake cultural competence education and training is essential. Workshops, courses or seminars on topics like cultural sensitivity, cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication can provide valuable insights and skills. Ongoing professional development is crucial to staying up-to-date with the evolving healthcare landscape.

  • Active listening

One of the tools in a nurse’s toolkit that can have the greatest impact is active listening. Devoting time to truly hear out a patient’s worries, fears and preferences empowers nurses to craft care that caters to each individual’s distinct needs. Active listening isn’t just about catching words – it’s about deciphering non-verbal cues and grasping the emotional undercurrents that color a patient’s communication.

  • Cultural humility

Cultural humility surpasses mere competence; it entails acknowledging that nurses may not possess an encyclopedic knowledge of every facet of a patient’s culture. Instead, it’s an ongoing journey marked by self-reflection and growth, underpinned by an attitude of humility and respect. Nurses should be unafraid to admit when they lack answers and should readily seek guidance, whether from the patient themselves or from culturally adept colleagues, whenever the need arises.

Building a diverse nursing team

Being part of a diverse nursing team can significantly enhance cultural competency. Collaborating with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds can provide valuable insights and perspectives, ultimately enriching overall understanding of a diverse range of patient populations. Nursing teams should actively promote diversity and inclusion; something that is delivered as part of all courses at Walsh University. The university considers the impact of cultural competency in nursing and ensure that all students recognize the benefits it brings to patient care.

Assessing and applying cultural competency

Regularly assessing one’s own cultural competency and seeking feedback from colleagues and patients can be a valuable step in continuous improvement. Tools such as self-assessment questionnaires or peer evaluations can aid in this process.

Once nurses have developed cultural competency, they can put it into practice in various ways.

Developing individualized care plans

Tailoring care plans to meet the cultural and religious preferences of each patient is crucial. This includes understanding dietary restrictions, religious practices and cultural traditions that may have an impact on their healthcare decisions. Nurses need to involve patients and their families in care planning, taking their cultural beliefs and preferences into account.

Using language services

For patients with limited English proficiency or who communicate in languages other than the predominant one, providing interpreters or translated materials is essential to ensure effective communication and understanding of medical information. It’s not only about language but also about respecting the patient’s right to understand their healthcare journey fully.

Respecting traditions

Nurses should show respect for cultural traditions and rituals, such as allowing family members to be present during certain procedures or ceremonies, accommodating prayer times, or respecting specific preferences regarding end-of-life care. This demonstrates sensitivity to the patient’s cultural background and helps build trust.

Being sensitive to non-verbal cues

In certain cultures, unspoken signals and body language carry immense weight in how people communicate. Nurses must stay tuned in to these cues and react thoughtfully as they often offer precious glimpses into a patient’s emotional world and requirements. The art of posing open-ended questions and employing empathy can also serve as a way of inviting patients to openly share their concerns and thoughts.

Encouraging cross-cultural education

Nurses can educate patients about their own cultural background and practices, fostering understanding and reducing stereotypes or misconceptions. Providing educational materials or arranging cultural competence workshops for patients and their families can be beneficial.

Using cultural assessment tools

To effectively address the cultural needs and preferences of their patients, nurses can utilize various cultural assessment tools and frameworks. These tools are designed to help healthcare professionals gain insights into the patient’s cultural background, beliefs and practices. Here are a few commonly used cultural assessment tools:

  • National standards

The National CLAS Standards (Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care) provide a framework for culturally competent care. Nurses can use these standards to assess cultural factors, including language preferences, and ensure that healthcare services are responsive to the individual needs of a diverse group of patients.

  • Purnell model for cultural competence

This model offers a comprehensive framework for assessing cultural factors. It includes elements such as cultural awareness, cultural knowledge, cultural skill, cultural encounters, cultural desire, and cultural assessments. Nurses can apply this model to gather relevant cultural information.

  • Relevant framework

The ETHNIC(S) Framework stands for Explanation, Treatment, Healers, Negotiation, Intervention, Collaboration, and Spirituality. This framework helps nurses explore patient beliefs about health and illness, their preferred treatments, and their cultural healing practices.

  • Giger and Davidhizar transcultural assessment model

This model focuses on six cultural phenomena: communication, space, social organization, time, environmental control, and biological variations. It guides nurses in understanding how these factors influence patient care.

When using these assessment tools, nurses should do so with a gentle touch, always mindful of the patient’s privacy and autonomy. It’s not just a matter of ticking boxes; it’s about approaching cultural assessments ethically and guarding patient confidentiality. Once the mosaic of cultural insights is pieced together, nurses can weave it into the care plan, making sure it harmonizes with the patient’s cultural choices and upholds their beliefs and values. This personalized approach isn’t just about satisfying the patient; it’s about elevating the very essence of care quality.

Cultural competency and nursing teams

Cultural competency should not be confined to individual nurses but integrated into the broader culture of nursing teams and healthcare institutions. Encouraging discussions on cultural competency, sharing best practices and collectively addressing challenges can further enhance the quality of care provided by nursing teams.


Cultural competency is not a checkbox on a list of nursing skills but a cornerstone of effective and patient-centered care. By understanding the significance of cultural competency, assessing their own biases, seeking education and training, and actively applying these skills in their practice, nurses can provide more holistic, empathetic and culturally sensitive care. It’s a journey that requires commitment, ongoing self-improvement and collaboration within nursing teams.

Integrating cultural competency into the everyday rhythms of nursing isn’t just a professional duty – it’s a moral compass guiding a nurse’s path. As nurses persist in their quest for excellence in patient care, cultural competency remains a vital cornerstone of that commitment. It’s the linchpin, ultimately leading to enhanced patient satisfaction, better health outcomes and a more just healthcare landscape.

This all-encompassing approach to cultural competency in nursing equips nurses to meet the myriad of needs of their patients. It nurtures an atmosphere of inclusion, respect and trust within the healthcare arena. It also plays its part in shaping a healthcare system that serves every patient without bias, regardless of their cultural or ethnic background, ultimately elevating the overarching quality of healthcare delivery.

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