To keep patients safe and deliver an excellent standard of care, nurses must use their cultural sensitivity skills. These range from simple awareness and respect for people’s beliefs, their race and their culture, to linguistic and behavioral practices.
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What is cultural sensitivity?
In the initial stages, it can be difficult to connect with people from different cultures, especially if we don’t understand much about their background. However, it is easy to learn ways of interacting respectfully and with knowledge of the other person’s feelings. Even when their view of the world is very different from the one that we have, there are ways to strengthen the bonds that exist between us as human beings and ensure that everyone feels like they belong.
Understanding how to interact positively with people who come from different cultures is at the heart of cultural sensitivity. For nurses to refine this ability, they have to learn more about their own culture objectively. They will also have to show a willingness to learn more about other cultures and have retained a positive attitude toward the differences that exist.
Why should we care about cultural sensitivity?
The US is a diverse country in terms of both race and ethnicity. According to the US Census Bureau, the country has become even more racially and ethnically diverse in the 10 years between 2010 and 2020, so it’s a growing trend. The Census also indicates that every 34 seconds, international migration adds another person to the general population.
We are, or we are living alongside, people who are immigrants, migrants and refugees. Together, we make up what is a beautifully diverse country. However, cultural sensitivity also encompasses an understanding of people who have different genders and sexualities from our own. As the US grows and develops, so do our opportunities to build on the relationships between our different communities.
Without an understanding of cultural sensitivity, this chance could be lost, because it will be so much harder to establish these relationships. It helps us as a nation to avoid misunderstandings on a small or a large scale and ensures that we coexist progressively, peacefully and affirmatively.
What about cultural sensitivity in healthcare?
In medicine, the same themes are true, especially for nurses, who often serve as advocates for the patient. Here, a lack of understanding that takes place because of a language barrier or cultural differences can have a significant impact on the care that a patient is given. Each day, nurses make a special effort to empathize with the people they meet, and in turn, their lives are all the richer.
They do this by going out of their way to continually learn about other cultures and gain a deeper understanding of what issues may arise as a result of someone having an alternative belief system. They are aware that it can affect not just the uptake of healthcare services, but also the treatment options that a person might consider. By nurturing and building upon this knowledge, nurses can have an influence on the way that care is delivered and help to minimize disparities in patient outcomes. They focus on the patient as a unique individual and take a patient-centered approach to their wellbeing.
When a nurse can relate to their patient, they can tend to their needs on a deeper level. For anyone, hospitals can be stressful, anxiety-inducing places. However, even if there is just one person on the team who can speak their language or has an understanding of their unique culture, a patient is more likely to feel relaxed and safe. This in turn can lead to better therapeutic results and enhance care overall.
What does cultural sensitivity look like in nursing practice?
In general terms, cultural sensitivity allows nurses to communicate and interact with their patients effectively. It’s an essential skill for any healthcare worker involved in the treatment of people from culturally diverse groups and is taught in all good nursing programs. People who are hoping to train as a nurse can move from an unrelated bachelor’s to nursing degree through an accelerated BSN program at Rockhurst University. The program can be completed in just sixteen months with 100% online coursework and one on-campus residency that will prepare students to become an ethical and well-rounded nurse.
Graduate nurses have a range of problem-solving skills that are enriched by understanding how a patient’s social, cultural and economic background affects them. Cultural competency reduces the errors brought about by misunderstandings and miscommunications between healthcare workers and the people they attend to. On a day-to-day level, it can be incorporated into nursing practice in many different ways. In particular, it can be observed in the following traits.
Nurses who demonstrate the best cultural diversity skills are those who have a profound understanding of the nurse-patient relationship and its implications for care. They also work hard to gain knowledge of the views and cultural practices that could impact a patient’s attitude to care. Another useful skill to acquire is the ability to communicate across various barriers and achieve a healthy level of interaction.
Maintaining a positive attitude toward difference
Cultural sensitivity is more about celebrating difference than tolerating it. Through personalizing a care package and bridging gaps between people, it creates an atmosphere that’s welcoming. Nurses do not ignore or judge a patient’s beliefs – rather, they encourage people to make the right choices for themselves. Although a patient’s personal views might conflict with their treatment plan, nurses always remain empathetic and respectful. They value a person’s individuality and ethics, rather than seeking to change them.
Opening the lines of communication
Nurses must use terms and language that their patients understand, but when someone speaks a different language, they will have even more trouble following what is happening to them. To counter the problem, nurses make sure that they have a medical interpreter around to explain the finer points of a patient’s care, as family members may not be able to translate certain terms accurately.
Being proactive about inclusion
Inclusion begins at the level of recruitment, and by targeting underserved communities, different ethnicities, and LGBTQ+ people, the workforce will become more diverse. Furthermore, proactive nurses will learn more about the demographic they are serving and know which patients are from underserved communities. With this knowledge and the help of their colleagues, nurses can establish a team of diverse healthcare workers who can collaborate to boost cultural awareness in the workplace. This might take the form of signage presented in the languages that many local people use so that they can find their way around the facility more easily. It could also involve creating community outreach services to make contact with people who would otherwise struggle to access care.
How can cultural competency reduce health disparity?
Researchers have known for years that cultural competency is a key factor when it comes to alleviating health disparity. This term refers to the way that certain disadvantages affect a person’s access to healthcare, and it could be linked to social, economic or environmental issues. One way to eradicate the problem is to allocate resources correctly, based on the needs of individuals. However, this process alone is not enough. Nurses need to tackle what causes some racial, ethnic or social groups to experience worse health outcomes than others.
According to the US Small-Area Life Expectancy Project, a person’s life expectancy at birth can vary significantly depending on their state. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that: “Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than White women.” So, despite the introduction of new medical techniques that improve pregnancy outcomes and the wider availability of care through programs such as Medicaid, inequality persists.
Some of the reasons for this disparity are subtle, while others are more overt. However they present, the problem is complex, but remains rooted in discrimination. By addressing the tangible factors involved, such as being understanding of differences, being welcoming to all, and having minority individuals at all levels of healthcare, the disparity can begin to be eradicated. Furthermore, at an individual level, healthcare workers have many ways to enhance their cultural competency.
How can nurses expand their cultural sensitivity skills?
Nurses build cultural sensitivity into their work in many ways. It is very much an ongoing process. Here are some specific and basic examples of the practice.
Looking at things from someone else’s perspective
People from another culture may have different perspectives on the same issue. In some cultures, people prefer to be addressed as Mr. or Mrs., especially if they are seniors, while in the US, it’s friendly to call anyone by their first name. Showing respect for their choices is a great way of building trust.
Finding some common ground
Sharing experiences of a situation can quickly bridge any gap when it comes to patient care. For instance, if a patient needs to change their diet for health reasons, they might ask about a dish from their culture that is high in fat or sugar. A nurse might recommend eating less or modifying a recipe they enjoy, rather than giving it up. This technique is friendly but also mindful of the patient’s customs.
Asking coworkers to share their insight
Most US workplaces are wonderfully diverse, with people of various genders, races and ethnicities making up the team. This in itself helps to nurture a feeling of inclusiveness, but through informal discussions, it can also foster expert levels of cultural competency. People cannot speak for their entire race or sexuality, but they could be asked for their perspective if they are comfortable with this.
Learning to speak another language
Nurses can learn to speak another language if they feel that it could help them communicate more effectively with many of their patients. While qualified medical interpreters will always be needed for more complex tasks, nurses who can chat and make a patient feel welcome in their language will nurture trust.
Gaining knowledge of local faith groups
Different faiths have alternative perspectives on how some treatments should be delivered and other issues relating to health. Muslims, for instance, need to fast during Ramadan, but when health considerations need to be addressed, the local imams or Muslim clergy could give guidance. Faith leaders can provide the knowledge that nurses need to help their patients without asking them to compromise their beliefs.
Attending lectures or conferences that focus on cultural competency
Learning from experts gives nurses a comprehensive understanding of the key issues around cultural sensitivity. From social justice to policymaking and power structures, nurses can gain a better understanding of what is at the heart of this idea and how they can put their knowledge into practice. Then, back on the ward, they can implement changes that bring about positive effects for their patients and their own caregiving. Another good thing about attending a conference of this sort is the opportunity to meet people from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities. Nurses can learn both from the official program of study and the social aspect of the conference.
Volunteering to get experiences in different cultures
Nurses can travel abroad to get involved with different cultures, but they can also simply volunteer with a local group or a community clinic that serves a diverse population. This is a great way to meet people from other backgrounds, recognize their perspectives, and discover how to communicate sensitively with people in formal and informal contexts. It can also help nurses to put contemporary debates around healthcare into perspective and to consider what inclusive strategies or practices would aid their patients.
Mindfulness and self-reflection have long been part of a nurse’s toolkit. It keeps them tuned in to their environment and allows them to understand more about their behavior. In short, this quiet and personal act enhances self-awareness and also constitutes a form of self-care. Furthermore, mindfulness can help nurses to develop the skills and behaviors that promote an appreciation of diversity. It encourages an open mind, a preference for learning, and acceptance of difference. This is done through an exploration of personal opinions, biases and prejudices. Once a nurse knows what experiences formed their opinions, they can work on ways of quashing any negativity they still hold toward other ways of living.
Why is culturally competent nursing so important in healthcare settings?
The benefits of cultural competency in healthcare settings are numerous, from the cultivation of mutual respect to the promotion of inclusion. In a nation that is so culturally diverse, it is more of a requirement than an option for care providers.
The community becomes more engaged with their care
Outside of a medical facility, best cultural sensitivity practices can lead to patients taking more responsibility for their health and feeling confident enough to seek help when they need it. Moreover, the use of community engagement methods, such as outreach clinics and volunteer work, can lift participation and local interest in health issues. When nurses tailor the care they give to the preferences and values of different people, they align the service with that community’s needs. As a consequence, individuals, their families and the neighborhood are more likely to have a positive perception of healthcare. This leads to more effective interactions with nurses in the local clinic, heightened adherence to care plans, and better outcomes overall.
The economic advantages of cultural competency
In a modern hospital, there are lots of factors that influence the facility’s economic success, many of which relate to good cultural competency. This starts with the ability to collect health data from a diverse portion of the population, but also encompasses the effective provision of preventative care and patient compliance. When patients are on board with their treatment and feel engaged, they are likely to follow the plan they have been given. Moreover, they are less likely to increase the hospital’s waiting list by missing visits or being readmitted.
The patient-nurse relationship is enhanced
A good patient-nurse relationship can have a huge impact on health outcomes. It is a therapeutic relationship that involves a nurse demonstrating empathy, establishing trust and giving expert feedback. Nurses also respond to any patient needs that are unmet. Using cultural competency, nurses can relate to a diverse range of patients on this deeper level and ensure that they feel included in their care. This can lead to better compliance from patients who might feel unsure about their treatment and, as a result, faster recovery times.
Making healthcare accessible to all
The social elements of health, such as our living conditions, where we work and our access to care, vary greatly. Health inequity, inclusion and building trust in disadvantaged communities pose significant challenges to the US healthcare system, but cultural sensitivity can be a catalyst for change. Nurses who build cultural sensitivity into their work address the inequalities felt by people from diverse sexual, ethnic and gender backgrounds. In doing so, they strive to give every patient the means to lead a happy and healthy life.
Cultural sensitivity, also known as cultural awareness or cultural competence, refers to the capability to effectively and respectfully interact with individuals from different cultures. It involves being aware of and understanding the values, beliefs, customs, practices, and communication styles of diverse cultural groups. Developing cultural sensitivity is essential in today’s interconnected and multicultural world to foster positive relationships, reduce misunderstandings, and promote inclusivity.