The Importance of Cultural Competence

The concept of cultural competence is relatively straightforward; it refers to a person’s awareness of cultural differences and the impact these differences may have on them. Whether you are an EMT, social worker, teacher, administrator, or any other profession, employees in these roles should be aware that there may be important cultural differences between their patients, patients’ families, students, or clients, and colleagues. Such differences include differences in education, religion, ethnicity, culture, or language.

In order to properly meet the needs of patients and families from different cultural backgrounds, it is important to be aware of these differences. There are three main aspects to be aware of:

First, it is important to understand that language is often the barrier that interferes with successful communication. In addition to learning how to communicate in a given language, it is critical that the provider is able to communicate with the patient’s family/caregivers in their language as well. It is important for providers to communicate in an open, honest, and accurate manner. Otherwise, negative experiences can occur.

Second, providers need to consider and take into consideration a patient’s culture. This is especially important if the patient is seeking care from a different provider. For example, it would be important for a patient from a culture where sickness and disease are considered a curse to be referred to a provider with a different perspective and beliefs. Another cultural concept is that traditional medicine is 90% effective for curing illnesses; therefore, if a provider is from a country that primarily uses traditional medicine, it is important for them to recognize that a patient may prefer to be treated with that tradition.

Third, it is helpful for providers to understand and be aware of cultural norms. Depending on the cultural background, patients may perceive certain behaviors as rude, inappropriate, or intrusive. For example, a patient from a conservative country may not appreciate a provider’s conversation regarding politics or sex. Similarly, a patient from an immigrant family may not appreciate a provider’s discussion of their religion. In general, the provider should treat patients with respect and empathy. The provider should also take into consideration the patient’s background in order to best treat the patient.

Cultural competence is an important aspect of healthcare. In addition to being respectful and empathetic, providers should also be able to communicate effectively with their patients, families, students, or clients. By being aware of cultural competency, providers can be more attentive to cultural factors when providing care. This will lead to more positive treatment experiences for patients and their families.

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