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Cultural Competence: Definition & Model

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

Training in cultural competence is becoming mandatory in many healthcare and counseling arenas. Learn about the definition and importance of cultural competence, as well as the Campinha-Bacote Model of cultural competence in this lesson.

What Is Cultural Competence?

Although Shanise, a community therapist, was born and raised in Jamaica, she has a knack for relating and communicating with colleagues and clients of all different cultures. Shanise is a role model in cultural competence, openness and understanding of other cultures different from her own.

To be competent in something is to be able to do something successfully, skillfully or capably. Cultural competence is essentially the ability to successfully interact, understand and communicate with people of cultures other than one's own. With the increase in cross-cultural interaction on personal and professional levels, there are many reasons why individuals should strive to be culturally competent.

Why Is Cultural Competence Important?

Imagine Oliver, an English businessman who spends months consulting in various countries in the Middle East. Oliver will want to learn Middle Eastern mores and values, and perhaps some of the native languages as well, so that he can be respectful of the individuals that he interacts with in his daily business there. This will not only assist him in establishing personal friendships there, but will also make professional interactions run a lot smoother.

Cultural competence isn't just about making stronger and smoother personal and professional relationships. A lack of cultural competence can be dangerous to a patient's health. For example, a doctor who is not culturally competent might fail to recognize religious restrictions of an Orthodox Jewish patient and prescribe them a medication made with gelatin which comes from pigs. Because this patient has dietary restrictions to not eat pork, they may fail to fill their prescription and neglect to comply with their medication regimen.

Culturally competent healthcare professionals can tailor interventions to sync with the cultural needs of patients, improving the quality of care.
cultural competence in nursing

Components of Cultural Competence

Cultural competence requires several elements of professionals:

  • Challenging systems that give power to only majority or privileged cultures
  • Adapting interventions in healthcare and counseling to fit the cultural needs of individual patients and clients
  • Addressing and reversing one's own cultural prejudices and biases
  • Educating oneself on various cultures and their beliefs, values and attitudes
  • Despite knowledge of another's culture, continuing to learn about each individual person's experience of their own culture so that the practitioner is certain to not stereotype or generalize

Campinha-Bacote Model of Cultural Competence

The Campinha-Bacote model helps practitioners ensure that they are being culturally competent in their practice. The acronym ASKED, as in 'Have I asked myself the right questions?' is a way that practitioners can remember the components of this model.

  • A stands for awareness of one's own biases and prejudices when working with those of other cultures.
  • S stands for skill in culturally-competent assessment of clients or patients.
  • K stands for knowledge of a client or patient's individualized culturally-influenced worldview and how their culture affects their physical and mental health.
  • E stands for encounters with those of different cultural backgrounds. One can only read and learn so much in a textbook. Face-to-face encounters and real life experience with other cultures is vital to becoming culturally competent.
  • D stands for desire to be culturally competent. If a professional has no desire to be culturally competent, they probably won't take the necessary effort and time to learn about other cultures.

A passion and desire to learn about and understand other cultures is a vital component of cultural competence.
cultural competence in healthcare

Example Using the Campinha-Bacote Model

Let's take Shanise from the opening scenario. Shanise is a Jamaican LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) who is a therapist with a community mental health agency. Shanise meets with Kim, a white American single mother in her forties, who is struggling with disciplining her two teenage sons.

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