The Continuing Challenges of Cultural Competency

Article Categories: Legal and Ethics & Nurse On the Job

Cultural Competency. You’ve heard it over and over, and attended many training sessions designed to prevent bias in the workplace and when providing patient care. As society becomes more diverse, it can be a challenge to be sensitive to every group and to understand the subtleties of each culture.



As RNs, we pride ourselves on giving excellent and equal care to patients. We strive to treat co-workers with respect. But sometimes, words or actions are misinterpreted. No matter how unintentional the event, we put ourselves and our employer at risk. RNs serve as patient advocates, team leaders, and role models in healthcare. Our responsibilities include leading the way to improved awareness and understanding.

What are some of the continuing roadblocks in healthcare? And what can an RN do?

• Stereotyping. We all grow up with a certain view of the world. Over time, we come to assume that certain races or cultures act in specific ways. When we carry these beliefs into our careers, we are unable to treat others fairly. Instead of pre-judging others, the RN should never presume to know what another person is like. Ask questions, assess the situation, and take time to learn about individuals.

• Patient Understanding. Every day is busy, and it’s tempting to spend less time with patients who don’t speak English. It becomes even more complicated when family members or advisors are present. But without determining how much the patient--and others--understand about the condition, treatments, and instructions, the chances of compliance plummet. And the chances of a safety event soar. Interpreter services are available for non-English and limited-English proficiency speakers. Cultural competency depends on authentic communication, so use appropriate resources. Of course, we know not to use family members as reliable interpreters.

• Cultural Ignorance. With over seven billion people on Earth, it’s impossible to know and understand every culture. Expecting staff to remember them all is an unreasonable expectation. Each facility has an established demographic patient base; everyone should know the basics of the most frequent cultures. Reference materials should be available. No one wants to intentionally offend someone else, so when an unfamiliar culture presents itself, take a few minutes to Google information regarding communication and the societal basics.

• Minority Staff. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, racial and ethnic groups now make up 37% of the population. However, minorities only represent 19% of Registered Nurses. All national nursing organizations agree that recruiting minorities to enter nursing school is a priority. Every RN should endorse this measure, as well as extend kindness and acceptance to fellow nurses from other backgrounds. Research shows that diversity leads to creativity and better outcomes.

Cultural competency is an ongoing process in healthcare. As RNs, we all play a pivotal role in creating a better workplace environment and patient experience.

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