Providing care that is culturally respectful and appropriate is an essential part of any nursing career.

A nurse speaks to a patient in a wheelchair.Nearly 40% of Americans belong to a minority group and, by 2044, that percentage is projected to eclipse 50%.* This group represents a wide range of religions, cultures, and ethnicities. The only thing they all have in common is that they are all Americans and they will all, at some point, need healthcare.

Whatever path you take in your nursing career—whether you’re an RN, APRN, family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or any other variety of nurse—you are certain to have patients who come from a wide variety of cultures. In order to provide the best, most effective care, you’ll need to learn how to be culturally competent.

What Is Cultural Competency?

Our belief system, language, customs, values, body of knowledge, and sense of personal identity are heavily influenced by our ethnicity, religion, geographic origin, cultural group, class status, and/or social groups. If you’re culturally competent, you understand the importance of these interrelations and treat people’s preferences and differences with respect.

Why Is Cultural Competency Important?

Patients do not respond well if you ignore or violate their cultural norms. According to the National Institutes of Health, cultural competency “is critical to reducing health disparities and improving access to high-quality healthcare” because it “enables systems, agencies, and groups of professionals to function effectively to understand the needs of groups accessing health information and healthcare.” In others words, if you respect cultural preferences and differences, you can more effectively care for all of your patients, regardless of how diverse they are.

How Can You Provide Culturally Competent Care?

There are multiple steps you can take to ensure you’re providing care that is culturally competent. These include:

Being Aware of Your Own Culture
We all have cultural preferences. Take time to consider how your own beliefs, values, sense of identity, etc., relate to your background. What you consider “normal” is most likely a product of how you grew up and with whom you associate now. When you understand your own preferences, you can better anticipate when and how your patients’ preferences may differ.

Never Assuming
Even if you think you understand a patient’s preferences, you still need to verify what your patient considers appropriate and normal. Cultural clumsiness can be avoided by showing concern and compassion from the get-go.

Educating Yourself
Reading about other cultures and attending seminars about cultural differences can help prepare you to provide culturally competent care. It’s hard to know everything, but you should actively work to improve your cultural knowledge, particularly in regards to the most common cultures in your patient base.

Explaining Everything
It’s always a good idea to explain treatments to patients, but this is even more important when dealing with a patient who comes from a different cultural background than your own. Define jargon and explain why a specific course of action is necessary. This can help avoid noncompliance and confusion, which can lead to poor healthcare outcomes.

Not Judging
Your job as a nurse is to help people stay healthy. You don’t have to agree with other people’s cultural preferences to provide appropriate care.

How Else Can You Improve Your Nursing?

Cultural competency is just one part of succeeding in your nursing career. If you want to improve all aspects of your nursing skills and put yourself in position to advance your career, consider earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN degree).

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing is considered a prerequisite for many of the most in-demand nursing jobs and can help you earn the top nursing salaries. Best of all, you don’t have to stop working in order to earn one. Thanks to online education, you can now attend nursing school from home. Through an online BSN or MSN program, you can complete your courses from anywhere you have internet access at whatever time of day works best for you. This makes it possible to earn your nursing degree while you continue to work.

One such online nursing school is at Walden University. Walden’s BSN and MSN programs provide all the advantages of online learning, and the MSN program has eight specializations from which to choose. Additionally, all of Walden’s nursing programs connect you with a teaching faculty that’s 100% doctorally prepared. Walden attracts nursing students from around the country and has become the leading provider of advanced nursing degrees in the U.S., producing more MSN graduates than any other university.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) Completion Program and a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


*S. Colby, et. al., “Projections of the Size and Composition of the U.S. Population: 2014 to 2060,” U.S. Census Bureau, on the internet as a PDF at www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2015/demo/p25-1143.pdf.

†National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Cultural Respect,” on the internet at www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/nih-office-director/office-communications-public-liaison/clear-communication/cultural-respect.

‡Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP codes 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse); 51.3808 (Nursing Science); 51.3818 (Nursing Practice). Includes 2016 preliminary data.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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