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Cultural Competence in Nursing

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
An innocent word or gesture on a nurse's part can cause distress to a patient of a different culture. This is why cultural competence is so important. This lesson defines and explains this topic.

Cultural Differences

Cultural difference are great. As a result of them, we get to eat different food, listen to diverse music, and hear unique accents. At the same time though, cultural diversity can create a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. An innocent and even good-willed action or word on your part may actually cause stress or anger to a person of a different culture.

And we all know that in medicine, creating stress for the patient or client can be quite detrimental for a number of reasons. This lesson explains the need for cultural competence in nursing.

What Is Cultural Competence?

Culture can be defined in a lot of different ways but it can be seen as the behaviors, customs, arts, morals, knowledge and beliefs of a particular group of people. This group could be of a national, ethnic, age-related, or other social nature.

With that in mind, cultural competence involves a nurse's ability to understand another person's culture, demonstrate knowledge of it, and accept and respect the difference between his/her culture and the client's. Cultural competence also involves somewhat adapting nursing care to the client's culture.

Cultural competence in nursing is a fine balance between doing what must be done to better the patient and not allowing one's own cultural beliefs have an excessive and/or improper influence on another person's background. This, in turn, means the nurse must be aware of his/her own thoughts, beliefs, and environment as well as the client's and how all of those interact together in a practice setting.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important?

So, why bother with this? After all, it's not easy given the many different cultures in the U.S.

Well, one thing we can all agree on is that minimizing a person's stress and respecting their wishes is important. If the wishes, especially those with negligible effects on treatment outcome, are disregarded, then this can increase a person's stress and certainly diminish a client's impression of a nurse, hospital, or even Western medicine in general.

For example, some cultures may believe that when a person has an episode of dyspnea, difficulty breathing, then the patient's physical energy is drained. The only way to restore this physical energy would be through a combination of rest, sleep, and proper nutrition. To a patient's specific culture, proper nutrition may have nothing to do with the nutritional support provided by the hospital staff. It may have to do with a family member's unique and traditional cooking. If a request for this food is denied or disregarded, a patient's stress level might be needlessly increased. The patient will feel like they are being denied the chance to properly recover their energy levels, and they may not ask for home-cooked food again for fear of embarrassment.

Another example of cultural competence has less to do with creating undue stress for a patient and more to do with making a potentially deleterious judgement about a patient. In Vietnamese culture, people believe that spirits are attracted to newborn children. Thus, parents try to avoid attracting attention to their newborn. If you see a Vietnamese mother pay little attention to her newborn, it may have nothing to do with bad parenting or negligence and everything to do with her trying to protect the child. But without cultural competence, that would be impossible to understand.

Developing Cultural Competence

Developing this necessary cultural competence is important and not easy to do. It involves five main areas.

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