As a nurse, what would you do if a patient was of a different background? How would you, for example, handle someone who asked you to kneel by their bed so you can say a prayer together, or asked you to send in a female nurse because they don’t believe in male nurses?
In your career, you will encounter patients from different cultures all the time, and because you have sworn to do your best for all patients, you must learn to overcome whatever prejudices you may hold and provide empathetic, patient-based care.
Developing cultural sensitivity is a requirement for the modern nurse. These professionals must learn to treat all people with respect, care, and compassion regardless of their beliefs, ethics and background. Cultural sensitivity for nurses has become so important that it is now taught in almost every university in a wide variety of courses. Even MBA students are now required to graduate with some knowledge of cultural diversity and its benefits.
For nursing students, it may not appear as a standalone module in the curriculum, but it is integrated into almost every topic. Students of the UIndy ABSN program, for example, learn topics such as nursing health assessment, transitional care, population health and complex nursing care. As instructors tackle these topics, they teach the value of cultural awareness and provide students with real-life examples, along with advice on how they can become culturally diverse in their dealings with patients.
What is cultural sensitivity in nursing practice?
Cultural sensitivity in nursing practice entails providing nursing care to patients while respecting their cultural beliefs, ethics, values, and race. To do this, a good nurse takes the time to get a basic understanding of different cultures, what they believe in and what may offend them.
A culturally competent nurse is empathetic and understanding to all patients, regardless of what they believe in, where they are from or their race. Just as the nurses’ pledge says, they practice nursing in the service of humanity, are guided by a good conscience and aim to treat all patients with dignity.
Components of cultural sensitivity in nursing practice
Understanding the components of cultural awareness makes it easier to learn. It is often broken down into smaller elements that can easily be understood by everyone. Here is a look at the main components.
This is about being aware of one’s thoughts and biases. If you pay attention to the thoughts that come to your mind when you meet other people, it becomes easier to weed out negative thoughts about them because you are aware of them.
After you become aware of them, you can analyze your internal beliefs and work toward changing your attitude. For example, you can start to think about where your biases come from and examine them objectively.
This involves working to acquire knowledge about other cultures, beliefs and races. Nurses must acknowledge that most biases do not have an objective basis, stemming instead from deeply held beliefs that do not stand up to scrutiny. Acquiring knowledge about other cultures is the most effective way of eliminating bias.
This is about nurses putting what they have learned into practice. They integrate the knowledge they have acquired into their everyday activities until it becomes the norm for them to treat everyone equally. This involves the use of respectful and empathetic language and developing positive body language.
What are the benefits of cultural sensitivity?
In addition to fostering a positive environment that encourages healing, there are other benefits to being a culturally competent nurse:
- You develop deeper patient relationships, and the better you get to know your patients, the higher quality of care you can provide.
- Patients who go to hospitals where nurses are culturally competent report higher levels of satisfaction with their treatment and handling.
- There are fewer healthcare disparities when cultural awareness is at the core of medical practice. Healthcare disparities occur when one group of people receives better care than another.
- There are better patient outcomes all around.
- Nurses and other hospital personnel collaborate, making for a healthy work environment with little conflict.
How can you become a culturally competent nurse?
If you find yourself having biased thoughts about a patient because of where they come from or their beliefs, here are some steps you can take to eliminate these negative thoughts:
- Accept other people’s beliefs. If you are taking care of a religious patient, for example, allow them to share their views without challenging them. It is their way of life, and debating them about it will only antagonize them.
- Build trust and patience. If you do your job properly, you will find that patients trust you and are willing to open up and provide information that you can use to provide care. To build trust, you must make the patient feel secure with you.
- Show an interest in learning about others. All too often, we get wrapped up in ourselves and forget that there are others out there. Culturally competent nurses take the time to ask about different cultures and show genuine interest and respect.
- Educate patients about what you are doing for them. It can be very uncomfortable for patients if nurses don’t explain what they are doing and why. Talk to your patients about their care plans and allay any fears or concerns they may have.
- Ask for help when you need it. Communication can be difficult when dealing with someone of a different race or culture. Ask someone who understands the language and culture to help translate and explain.
- Be a good listener. To come up with an effective care plan, you must understand what the patient wants, and you can only do this by listening to what they say to you.
- Exercise respect in all of your interactions. If patients sense that you don’t respect their culture or beliefs, they will withdraw, and you will have a hard time getting them to communicate.
Cultural awareness in nursing is necessary for practitioners who want to excel in their careers. It allows nurses to treat everyone with fairness and without bias. Not only does this make for a happier environment that promotes healing, but it also helps patients open up and discuss their health problems.