By: Lanette Anderson
In nursing school, we are taught to respect the rights and dignity of all clients. As the “world becomes smaller” and individuals and societies become more mobile, we are increasingly able to interact with individuals from other cultures. Cultural competence and respect for others becomes especially important for us as nurses and patient advocates.
We all begin the process of learning the behaviors and beliefs of our culture at birth. We become assimilated into that culture, and the way that we express it is often without conscious thought. Our culture can have a definite and profound effect on how we interact with others, and also how we relate to the health care system.
Diversity is prevalent in our society and the clients and our co-workers in our health care system today clearly demonstrate that fact. The development of cultural competence first requires us to have an awareness of the fact that many belief systems exist. At times, the healthcare practices of others may seem strange or meaningless. The beliefs that others have about medical care in this country, and sometimes their aversion to it, may be difficult for us to understand. We must remember that we don’t need to understand these beliefs completely, but we do need to respect them.
Barriers to cultural sensitivity can include stereotyping, discrimination, racism, and prejudice. There are situations in which we may portray a lack of sensitivity without realizing it or intending to offend someone else. Simple steps such as addressing clients by their last name or asking how they wish to be addressed demonstrate respect. Never make assumptions about other individuals or their beliefs. Ask questions about cultural practices in a professional and thoughtful manner, if necessary. Find out what the client knows about health problems and treatments. Show respect for the client’s support group, whether it is composed of family, friends, religious leaders, etc. Understand where men and women fit in the client’s society. For example, in some cultures, the oldest male is the decision-maker for the rest of the family, even with regards to treatment decisions. Most importantly, make an effort to gain the client’s trust. This may take time, however all will benefit if this is accomplished. If the client does not speak your language, attempt to find someone who can serve as an interpreter.
Cultural competence is the ability to provide effective care for clients who come from different cultures. It requires sensitivity and effective communication, both verbally and non-verbally. As a nursing profession, we are far from representative of the populations that we serve. Members of minorities make up only a small percentage of nurses in the U.S. This number has been estimated to be as low as ten percent. The important issues of recruitment into the profession should specifically include efforts to recruit minorities and individuals from other cultures. When working with these individuals, the same principles apply as those listed above. Respect each other as a part of the health care team; we all are working towards the same goals of providing safe patient care.
Cultural sensitivity and cultural competence are an important part of the nursing care that we provide. Respect for others is discussed in our basic introductory courses in nursing school. It may have been a while since we heard how important it is in the development of an effective nurse/client relationship, but unlike some aspects of nursing, this will never change.