mother and son talking to healthcare professional
Profiles and Features August 8, 2019

By Brook Jillings

How to Improve Your Cultural Competence in Nursing

RNs are trained to be sensitive to their patient's needs, but cultural competence in nursing is sometimes overlooked.  

Without a firm understanding of cultural differences, it can be easy to cause patient distress or discomfort despite your best intentions accidentally.  

To prevent this, it's important to understand why cultural understanding is so critical and improve your cultural competence in nursing. 

The Importance Of Cultural Competence In Nursing 

Cultural competence in nursing is an important part of making patients feel welcome and comfortable while interacting with you. Not recognizing cultural differences can put you at risk of unwittingly saying or doing something deeply offensive to the person in your care.  

Depending on your patient's condition, the additional stress could harm their recovery. It can also damage the trust that must be established between nurses and their patients. 

[RELATED: Nurse Advocacy: 3 Ways to Become a Better Nurse Advocate]

"In a world moving more to globalization than ever before," says Catherine Burger, RN, BS, MSOL, NEA-BC, "nurses must strive to connect to patients and colleagues of different cultural beliefs."  

Having a solid relationship with other health professionals is crucial to enable nurses to do their jobs well. Offending coworkers with a different cultural background can damage those connections, leaving nurses without the support they need to succeed.

Improving Your Cultural Competence In Nursing 

The idea of trying to understand multiple cultures to avoid making a mistake can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, that kind of knowledge isn't necessary to show cultural sensitivity.  

In fact, just being aware that there are differences is a great start. Burger explains that the old rule of treating others as you want to be treated doesn't work anymore. Instead, she says, "Nurses must move to the Platinum Rule: Treat others as THEY wish to be treated." 

Strong communication skills are also a great asset when trying to improve your cultural competence in nursing. If you're faced with the possibility of a cultural misunderstanding, take the initiative and ask what the patient or coworker prefers.  

Burger recommends "asking questions, such as how to pronounce someone's name or how the patient would prefer to receive information, as many cultures prefer the eldest son or husband first to receive a prognosis."  

Also, make sure to listen closely for signs if you suspect cultural differences may be a factor with a patient or a colleague. 

Recognizing that cultural differences exist, communicating directly and listening actively can significantly reduce your chance of appearing culturally insensitive.  

Avoiding this kind of misstep will positively impact your professional connections and the care your patients receive.  

"By taking small steps to understand the background, beliefs, and values of different cultures," says Burger, "nurses can bridge the gaps to improve care and relationships."

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