A culturally-competent nurse is one who looks beyond the situation in front of him or her to help patients overcome obstacles in their home life or neighborhood culture to stick with their health care and medication regimen. This isn’t always easy. Stigmas surrounding certain diseases, economic challenges, conflicting religious beliefs and other ideologies all put barriers between patients and necessary health care. A culturally-competent nurse develops skills over time to help overcome these barriers. The three most important are outlined below:
Being open-minded: Different cultures place different emphasis on issues that affect healthcare, such as family, independence and religion. For instance, in Asian and Hispanic cultures, family means not just mother, father and wife/husband, but grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Prohibiting these extended family members from visiting in the hospital would be insensitive. A culturally-competent nurse takes the time to learn about other culture values that affect his or her patients.
Detective skills: Not every patient is willing to talk about the issues that are standing between him and her, and following proper health care advice. Maybe he or she is embarrassed, maybe he or she doesn’t fully trust medical personnel, or there’s even someone in his or her life telling them not to talk to nurses. A good, culturally-competent nurse is part health care and part detective. Such a person becomes aware of the small, non-verbal clues that indicate a patient is not being totally forthcoming. He or she also learns to take background, religion and ethnicity into account. For example, one nurse reported being frustrated with a group of patients from Asia who didn’t show up for their mammogram appointments. Their non-compliance became more understandable when she stopped to realize that breast cancer is virtually unheard of in their native country.
Patience: Like any relationship, relationships between nurses and patients take time to develop and flourish. A culturally-competent nurse doesn’t rush into a relationship and force his or her good advice on a resisting patient, no matter how tempting that course of action might be. In addition, health care jargon can be confusing for patients, especially to those for whom English is a second language. Being culturally-competent means taking the time to explain unfamiliar terms to patients.
Nursing is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 26 percent by the end of this decade. That’s approximately 711,000 new nursing jobs. As nursing continues to evolve and move towards preventative care and managing chronic health conditions rather than just acute care, culturally-competent nursing will become more important than ever. Make sure you’re ready.