In an increasingly diverse society, nurses are challenged to provide effective care to people of different world views, religions, races and cultures.

The foundation of cultural sensitivity is the awareness that differences between people exist, without assigning a value to those differences. This simply means that you don’t assume all differences and other world views are negative or demand complete assimilation into the dominant culture here. This is consistent with the nursing mission of patient advocacy and patient-centric care, as well as the ethical responsibility to respect the right and dignity of every patient.



In the broadest sense, cultural sensitivity can include not just culture but race, religion, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. All of these factors can influence a patient’s world views and interactions with the healthcare system. Nurses should be able to shift their perspectives to understand that what is ‘normal’ or expected in their own world view may not be ordinary behavior in another culture. To deliver culturally competent care, nurses should be able to identify how a patient’s experiences are influenced by culture, either through general awareness of a specific culture or by asking questions about the patient’s preferences or expectations, and then by adapting their own behavior to fit within the norms of another culture.

Within nursing practice, there are several cultural factors that may affect how nurses interact with patients:

-Support Structures: Within the family, do men or women have more influence? Are the elderly revered and respected for their experience, or seen as feeble and in need of care? Some cultures place the goals of the family as a unit over the needs of an individual. Nurses should understand the crucial role of family structures when dealing with patients.

-Special Health Concerns: Many ethnic groups have higher rates of certain conditions due to a combination of genetic, dietary and lifestyle factors. These can include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and even breast cancer. Nurses should be aware of these and ready to offer patient education and support regarding special concerns.

-Religious Concerns: These can include concepts of modesty, diet, end-of-life issues or procedures that are restricted or prohibited within a certain faith. Some cultures also believe that a state of illness or wellness is determined by a higher power, which may influence compliance with medical treatments. The role of the nurse is to advocate for patients without taking judgments about the treatments they choose or reject.

-Belief System: Different cultures can vary widely in their beliefs about diet, personal hygiene, and other health-related matters., making it more challenging for nurses to teach self-care. Some cultures rely heavily on their own traditional medicine – herbal remedies, acupuncture, faith healing, etc. A nurse who understands cultural belief systems can help a patient understand and integrate his or her own beliefs with our current healthcare system, for the best possible outcome.

Culturally competent care does not require you to change your own world views; it simply means that you accept others, act with empathy, and adapt your behavior as necessary to respect the values of other cultures.

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Republished here with permission from American Sentinel University. Original article here.

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