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The Importance of Cultural Competence in Nursing

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As healthcare professionals, we want our patients to receive quality, consistent medical care. Cultural awareness plays a major role in ensuring that happens.

Although it may sound like corporate-speak, culturally competent nursing care is the idea that, based on their culture, patients have unique societal beliefs that affect their opinion on treatment. A patient can end up with substandard services from a doctor or nurse who doesn’t consider their culture.
Fortunately, an exciting school of thought addresses this disparity: cultural competence in health care.

What is cultural competence in nursing?

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Cultural competence in nursing treats demographics, values, beliefs and behaviors as a comprehensive healthcare approach. It examines how a person’s race and socioeconomic status relate to their healthcare literacy, or how their religious values influence their thoughts on end-of-life assistance.

In nursing, cultural competence goes beyond a person’s race or income. It also includes people with disabilities and those who identify as LGBTQIA+. Registered nurses and other medical professionals who are familiar with such factors are more likely to provide these patient groups with better care.

Why is cultural competence important in healthcare?

In short, it improves outcomes. Diagnosing a patient’s needs more accurately from the get-go can relieve the financial burden on patients and healthcare providers. No second-guessing here.

Culturally competent nurses:

  • Have fewer misunderstandings with their patients, especially regarding cultural practices. 
  • Have increased awareness of patient safety and how they make decisions. 
  • Have a greater capacity for health equity, trust and mutual rapport. Culturally competent nurses can better understand their patients’ prior experiences with healthcare.

What are the components of cultural competence in nursing?

Of course, cultural competence isn’t just about grasping the core concept and taking a wild shot at trying to make it work. It involves specific skills you need to hone,


First, identify what you do know and what you don’t about different cultures, and have the humility to acknowledge that the latter may be a rather long list. 

To provide the best patient care and services, you have to remove your own cultural upbringing from your patients’ care so you can learn what’s important to them.

Additionally, you need to understand how your unconscious biases may affect your perception of your patients.


Being aware of your biases is a significant part of culturally competent care. Knowing that you’re misinformed is one thing. Being proactive in monitoring how to improve cultural competence in nursing is another. 

Keep yourself open to hearing about how others perceive your actions and adjust them accordingly.

nurse wearing pocket v scrubs


Learn how to interact respectfully with different groups, both with your tone of voice and your body language. Learn how gender norms may affect your patient interactions and how specific phrases may be inappropriate. How you present yourself in your scrubs and healthcare uniforms can come into play, too, both for women and men.

Once you have this knowledge on hand, practice those skills daily. 


When you run into a situation where cultural competence is vital, how will you handle it? Do external factors make you less likely to adapt to the situation or reduce your sympathy? How will you address the patient’s concerns and provide them with specialized care, especially if their situation is an emergency?

Cultural desire and attitude

Lastly, your innate empathy toward others can play a huge role in how well you provide care. If you’re unwilling or resentful, patients will pick up on your attitude through your body language and what you say.

Cultural competence in nursing examples

Want a few examples of how this cultural competency can play out?

A patient with a language barrier wants to use their child as an interpreter

Sometimes you need to give distressing news to a patient, news which should never be conveyed through a child. In a culturally competent workplace, your diverse staff will have the ability to converse with the patient in their own language or use the assistance of a professional interpreter.

A patient wants to speak to a nurse of the same gender

Although sexism can play a role in gendered healthcare requests, sometimes a patient simply wishes to speak to a nurse of the same gender out of comfort. Other times, a cultural element is involved. A competent nurse will spot the difference and be empathetic toward the request.

A patient is distrustful because of prior discrimination

Unfortunately, not all nurses provide care without bias, and because of discrimination in the healthcare system, some ethnic and racial groups have received unfair, discriminatory or ineffective assistance.

A diverse nursing staff can speak directly to these patients’ past experiences and empathize with them. They can reassure them that future care will be compassionate. 

A patient with a disability requests a specific location or method of care

One of the biggest issues people with disabilities face is the need for others to understand that reasonable accommodations and personal independence can go hand in hand. Just because a person uses an assistive device does not mean they cannot advocate for their own needs. 

In a culturally competent workplace, a nurse will not speak over or belittle a person’s advocacy for their own health. Nor will they deny these accommodations or make that care harder to seek.

How to boost cultural competence in nurses

nurse wearing 3 pocket grey scrubs
  • Create a diverse workforce: You can train your nurses in cultural competency, but actual competence comes from a diverse staff that can directly empathize with the patients they’re caring for.
  • Travel as much as you can: Travel may be a little less frequent these days due to the pandemic, but generally speaking, travel is a great way to expose yourself to cultural diversity outside your immediate sphere of influence. 
  • Educate yourself: Learn about your patient population, along with their socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Take the initiative and figure out what they need. 

Creating a sense of cultural competence in the workplace can feel challenging at times, but it’s easier than you might think. The truth is, it can start with even the simplest act of kindness, be it by offering a heartfelt “thank you” as you’re passing in the hall or sharing a laugh in the breakroom. If you’re looking for other ways to show your coworkers how much you appreciate them, be sure to check out our holiday gift guide (no matter the season!).

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