Culturally Competent Nursing

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A group of female nurses in front of a university building

Rooted in the interactions between people, nursing is as much an inter-personal experience as it is a health care career. In recognition of this, many nursing schools are implementing cultural and linguistic competency training into their curricula as a means to advance health equity and reduce health care disparities.

“Some people argue that care is very scientific [and

A group of female nurses in front of a university building

that] nurses and health care providers make decisions around patient care based on data, irrespective of differences in identity, points of view, or perspectives,” said Rushika Patel, PhD, chief inclusion officer at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, in a recent interview with “However, that’s flawed because human interaction is such an important part of the patient-provider interaction. Culturally and linguistically relevant communication has the potential to help us meet our goals around health equity.”

Effective health care delivery relies on an understanding of the patient as a whole person by considering factors such as housing arrangements, familial environments, cultural backgrounds, and language proficiency, among others.

Specific implementation of culturally competent training varies among nursing programs and can include case studies, simulations, and specialized practical application activities. Common among all of these is the commitment to appreciating cultural diversity and recognizing and confronting stereotypes in a way that nurtures mutual respect and understanding. Nurses are in a unique position to impact people, and authentic, compassionate navigation of the variety of visible and invisible differences in a community is a vital tool in the health care practitioner’s toolbox.

“It’s about practice and integrating what you learned into how you care for patients,” Patel said in the interview. “It’s also much more than your career because you can’t have this sensibility in one aspect of your life but none in the other aspects of your life. Ultimately, it is a profound commitment to humility, thinking with an open heart, listening to people, and not stereotyping,” she said.

Cultural and linguistic competency fosters active patient participation in health care decisions, increases the likelihood for follow-up, and ultimately results in better health outcomes. This practice serves not only patients but communities as a whole by providing safe environments for growth, combating compassion fatigue among providers, and supporting a higher quality of life for a greater number of individuals, particularly within historically underserved communities.