How can Nurses Become More Culturally Competent?

Excelling as a nurse or any kind of healthcare professional means more than simply knowing how to treat certain conditions and build rapport with patients. More often than not, this career path demands nurses and other workers be active listeners, always gaining new knowledge and implementing it into their everyday practice.

Often, the biggest changes a nurse will notice when entering the workforce are those that relate to mindset and perception. In this line of work, nurses and other specialists will find their biases and assumptions challenged multiple times a day.

Alongside providing the best possible care to patients, nurses must also take the time to build cultural competence. Regardless of where a nurse might work or study, there’s always likely to be various people from many different backgrounds to care for.

But what exactly does cultural competence mean, and why is it so important in nursing? Let’s look at the concept in detail and discuss how nurses can start to develop and build on this competence from the moment they set foot in a hospital or clinic.

What is cultural competence in nursing?

Cultural competence is communicating and interacting with others with sensitivity, understanding, and without prejudice. In nursing, specifically, it’s the ability to communicate with and treat people from diverse backgrounds and cultures with confidence and sensitivity.

The argument for cultural competence in nursing is that everyone deserves the same level of care and support, regardless of background, beliefs, or other systems. A nurse must always be willing to put their own biases aside and, in many cases, adapt to ensure patients receive the help they desperately need.

Cultural competence might be as simple as taking extra steps to ensure a patient speaking a different language receives translation support. It might also include a nurse or nurses taking the time to appreciate and accommodate certain religious or spiritual impacts upon the treatment they receive.

Ultimately, cultural competence in nursing helps hospital staff ensure all their patients receive the same standards of care and support. Otherwise, people from various backgrounds might suffer as a result of inherent bias or prejudice.

That said, there is more to cultural competence than just preventing prejudice.

Why is cultural competence so important in the nursing world?

Cultural competence in nursing does not simply ensure that all patients receive the same fair care standards. Exploring competence building and learning on the job also helps nurses and other staff to build rapport more easily with their patients.

The patient-nurse relationship revolves around trust. A patient who struggles to communicate with a nurse effectively, whether as a result of language barriers or cultural differences, will be unlikely to build a natural rapport. For nurses to provide the best possible care to their patients, nurses must communicate with them. Simply diagnosing a problem at face value is never enough.

For example, cultural barriers and a lack of rapport can prevent patients from opening up about internal struggles, such as the psychological effects of long-term illness. What’s more, a nurse is not always going to be able to know if a patient is in severe pain unless they build rapport and communicate effectively.

Cultural competence shows patients that they’re in a caring, comfortable environment where there’s zero prejudice, and they can feel free to open up and discuss their problems with nursing staff.

When studying for an accelerated BSN online through schools like Wilkes University, for example, students will learn quickly that the relationships they build with patients can greatly affect their care outcomes. Wilkes University directly offers nursing students the chance to explore these relationship dynamics in detail before heading into the workforce.

That said, it’s always important for nurses to continue learning, developing, and practicing cultural competence on the job. After all, no two cases will ever be the same, which means that nursing graduates should keep an open mind and attitude in everything they do.

Ways nurses can become more culturally competent at work

There are no set rules or expectations for developing cultural competence in nursing. However, there are many different ways in which nurses can introduce competency practice into their everyday cases, learn from others, and apply new skills and techniques to cases as time goes by.

Building cultural competence in nursing is always a marathon instead of a sprint. Therefore, the following ways nurses can demonstrate cultural competence at work can apply to hospitals, clinic settings, and everywhere in between.

Ask questions

Making assumptions about a patient’s cultural identity and practice is the worst possible thing to do – assumptions could lead to incorrect diagnoses, elements in care getting missed, and patients ultimately leaving the hospital feeling poorly cared for.

While it’s natural for nurses to strike up conversations at the patient’s bedside, they must be aware of the patient’s background and beliefs in order to avoid insulting them unknowingly. That’s why it’s crucial to ask questions instead of assuming.

Nurses and patients can learn from each other. On the nurses’ side, learning from their patients helps them to understand their charges’ needs better, meaning that rapport is easier to build, and a healthier outcome is reachable.

Take time to learn about other cultures

Not all learning and development that nurses undertake will be on-the-job. As such, it’s reasonable to expect that healthcare specialists will take on extra studies where possible if they wish to progress in a specific nursing field.

Regarding cultural sensitivity and competence, nurses should be willing to look into the diversity of expectations people have from healthcare providers. For example, it’s prudent for nurses to learn how different cultures and religious practices treat midwifery and blood work, where appropriate. This extra groundwork can help enhance skill sets and boost rapport with patients.

That said, again, it’s never safe to make assumptions. Nurses shouldn’t open conversations and treat patients as though they know the full extent of their cultures and beliefs. Instead, they should marry their knowledge gained with active listening and by asking their patients questions wherever possible.

Navigate language barriers carefully

Language barriers can prevent efficient and effective care if not approached professionally. Therefore, instead of expecting all patients to understand rudimentary English, nurses should take the time to look into other communication assets.

For example, a nurse might wish to learn more about a patient’s language or dialect. They could find this information through patient profiles or by speaking with their family members, friends, social workers, or other professionals who work with them.

From there, it might be useful for nurses to seek help from translators or mediators who can help to break down the language barriers in place. Once these barriers start to break down, it will become easier for nurses to deliver the care their patients need.

However, this process will take patience from both parties. It’s wise to practice keeping an open mind and to take treatment slowly with their patients so they have opportunities to respond and react.

Listen actively to patients

Active listening is a skill nurses should demonstrate in all they do with patients and with others on their team. However, listening actively holds even more weight when it comes to cultural competence.

By listening actively to patients, asking questions when appropriate, and making note of what they suggest, nurses can understand their needs and wants all the more clearly. While nurses are in a position to offer care and guidance as the trained experts in the room, patients still have an obvious say over the care they receive and how they feel.

Therefore, listening actively is a key tenet of nursing in that it helps to put patients at the heart of any care program or process. By engaging in active conversation and listening as much as offering instructions, nurses can glean crucial details that can help them navigate complex cultural discussions.

The best way for nurses to learn about patients’ cultural needs is to ask them. What do they need? How can healthcare better position itself to ensure they get the reassurance and support to back up their physical care?

All nurses studying online or offline will learn that active listening is a core communication factor in any clinical environment. They should, by and large, learn how to handle themselves in these conversations long before heading into the workplace.

Learn from others

Graduating from a nursing program doesn’t always mean a nurse has access to all the tools they’ll need to help people feel better and recover from various ailments. Many will head to placement but will continue learning from others in their teams far into their careers.

One of the best ways to approach cultural competence as a nurse is to follow the lead of others in the workplace. How do other nurses and caregivers adapt to multiple different cultures and patients in one given day? What are some of the techniques they’ve tried that have proven useful over years of practice?

Nurses who talk to and learn from others will continue building their own skill sets and applying knowledge to cultural needs for years to come. Healthcare education doesn’t start and end at a university – rather, it continues long into the nurse’s career as there will always be nuances and technical skills to learn and adapt to as time progresses.

Rather than charge headfirst into trying to adapt to different cultural needs and expectations, many nurses will wisely consult their nurse educators and peers for advice ahead of time. There is never any harm in asking questions – however, nurses must be willing to put what they learn into practice.

Build a natural skill set

The aim of building cultural competence as a nurse is to be ready to adjust to any needs when they arise. As should be obvious, there will always be different cases and demands that appear from day to day.

Therefore, there is always unlimited opportunity for different cultural needs to arise and, therefore, unlimited opportunities to learn and develop. Over time, this will mean most nurses should adopt cultural competence into their practice.

Experience with different patients, needs, and cultures helps nurses to design their own internal skill sets. There will always be learning opportunities working in any type of healthcare. Working so closely with patients, nurses never stop learning about how to make people’s lives a little more comfortable.

Cultural competence in nursing is a must

Cultural competence is about more than just listening to your patients. As nurses, healthcare specialists must keep open minds with regard to their cultural backgrounds, their spiritual expectations, and their needs from clinics, hospitals, and caregivers.

Nurses must treat patients with the same standard of care and sensitivity. This is not a role where you can carry out work with biases. Therefore, it pays for nurses to continue to develop cultural sensitivity and improve patient outcomes for years ahead.

While learning how to treat patients, administer medicine, and care for specific conditions and diseases is important, nurses must be open to cultural differences among their patients and be willing to actively listen. Otherwise, there’s a risk they won’t benefit from the caregiver-patient rapport and the communication that builds alongside.

Above all, nurses should enter their studies – and the workplace – willing to help everybody, regardless of culture and background.