There is an increasing cultural difference in the health industry with the rising number of patients who have divergent approaches to health, healing, illness, and the way they perceive life in general. Human beings in general have got a strong sense of attachment to a group, and most of them have a personal identity. The way an individual or people perceive others is based on their cultural backgrounds and personal experiences. The failure of a health professional and especially a nurse to understand such people might lead to a conflict of interest and confusion. It is, therefore, important for nurses to consider patients as unique individuals. Physicians need to be aware of their reactions to others to avoid a communication breakdown or misunderstanding between them and their patients. Therefore, understanding the similarities and differences between cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence is of paramount importance as it will help the nursing profession to understand their patients and provide them with optimum care.
To understand other people, one needs to be aware, sensitive and competent in his/her understanding of culture. Being aware of one’s culture in health means that nurses, doctors or any other health practitioners have an open mind to the concept of changing cultural practices and attitudes. They should have a conscious mind to appreciate the fact that there are cultures with deferring values, beliefs, norms and different lifestyles from the patients (Horevitz, Lawson & Chow, 2013; Nyabwari, 2016). Cultural awareness may be promoted by the organization and through the education system. In the latter case, a system is designed to promote healthcare professional awareness. Besides, cultural awareness is more personal and calls for personal understanding to promoting it.
Healthcare organizations can also create intervention strategies to improve cultural awareness of their employees. Such strategies include organizing training programs and having workshops for health practitioners such as nurses, doctors and other community health employees (Nyabwari, 2016). Such programs bring together nurses and doctors who have a difference in culture so that they could interact with one another and become aware of the existence of the difference in culture. Others include exchange programs, patient navigation, and peer education programs.
There is a growing challenge for nurses and other health practitioners to be well equipped with knowledge and information relating to culture so that they can provide excellent health care services (Reyes, Hadley & Davenport, 2013). The population in the United States is growing with profound changes in the culture of the communities. The resulting changes in the culture of the society call for nurses and other healthcare providers to be appreciative of the differences in culture and continue embracing cultural changes into their system to understand the society from a cultural perspective.
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Cultural sensitivity refers to the ability to know that there exist differences between cultures. Nurses, doctors, and other health practitioners should not ascribe values to these variances (Reyes et al., 2013). Cultural sensitivity is about valuing and recognizing other people’s culture. It also means appreciating that one’s own culture is no better than others and that all people are not the same.
Cultural sensitivity is an important component when delivering effective and efficient health care. Both healthcare professionals such as nurses and organizations must be well prepared to incorporate cultural sensitivity in their operations. According to Nomie (2014), it is the responsibility of hospitals and medical centers to promote a culturally sensitive health care system guided by the regulations from the federal government, state government and local guidelines. Cultural sensitivity is a process that is incorporated into the organization’s programs and helps to prepare an organization that acknowledges and recognizes the existence of other cultures (Nomie, 2014). Cultural sensitive, therefore, promotes good intercultural relations and helps to avoid intercultural conflicts.
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Being culturally competent in health care means that a health care provider such as a nurse or an organization can provide people with effective health services and are aware and sensitive to other existing cultures. Cultural competency effectively incorporates cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity aspects (Harun, Harrison, & Young, 2013). Nurses are said to be culturally competent when they are able to operate and deliver services effectively in a different culture.
Cultural competency is a process that an organization or an individual desiring to be culturally competent must undergo. First, a person should be aware of the cultural differences and then be sensitive to the existing cultural differences without attaching any values. Finally, to completely incorporate cultural competence, the organization’s values, principles, and services delivery policy must reflect the organization’s understanding and appreciation of cultural variations (Harun et al., 2013; Nomie, 2014). Attaining these principles is a process that requires constant appraisal of the organizations’ programs, attitudes, and practices.
An individual or an organization cannot be culturally competent unless they are aware of and sensitive to the existing culture. When nurses and other healthcare practitioners become aware of cultural differences, they become culturally sensitive, which ultimately makes them culturally competent (Horevitz et al., 2013). According to Harun et al. (2013), a culturally competent workforce will lead to an efficient healthcare service delivery and help in controlling the costs of care. The workforce will be able to understand their clients and provide them with the relevant health care services. Cultural competency also leads to an improvement of care provided and earns an organization and the whole team a good reputation.
Unlike cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity, which mostly rely on personal understanding of culture, cultural competency is not necessarily dependent on the personal understanding of culture. Cultural competency is subject of the exposure of nurses to different cultures and depends on the organization’s attitude to promoting cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competence. However, experiences and exposure alone do not increase the health practitioners’ competency (Harun et al., 2013). It is, therefore, the responsibility of the organization to participate in promoting cultural competency by incorporating policies, procedures and practices that will promote cultural competency of its staff in (Harun et al., 2013; Reyes et al., 2013). Therefore, it cannot be assumed that a nurse or other practitioners are culturally aware and sensitive if they are competent.
Cultural awareness, sensitivity, and competency are crucial in the healthcare delivery. They are similar in many ways and highly interrelated as one leads to the other. Cultural competency is also a process that both organizations and individuals have to embrace. People have different approaches to health, life practices, illness and healing and may, therefore, influence the healthcare delivery. Nurses, doctors, community health workers and other health practitioners should appreciate the importance of being culturally aware, sensitive and competent as it will improve the services they offer and make them holistically approach their clients, thus avoiding conflicts of interest and biases. Cultural awareness and sensitivity are keys to promoting cultural competence. They are a prerequisite to cultural competency. There is a need for an education system to promote cultural competency by incorporating programs that are culturally competent. Cultural competency is, therefore, a broad issue of concern in the health industry, hence the need to invest in improving it.