According to research published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, it shows that the U.S is growing culturally at a high rate. We have over one-third of the American population that comes from ethnic and racial minorities.

By the year 2043, it's estimated that they won't be the minority any longer. And unfortunately, registered nurses in the workforce who come from ethnic and racial minority backgrounds are about 19% of the entire workforce and because of this disparity, there are many challenges in caring for a culturally diverse population.

Today, the number of culturally and ethnically diverse is shooting high and each group has its cultural traits. And also, some racial groups have unique health challenges that are specific to them. 

Nurses spend a significant amount with their patients from triage to discharge which makes it more critical for them to become culturally competent. In the health care sector, cultural competency supports great patient outcomes and also improves medical research. 

What do we mean by cultural competence?

Dr. Larry D. Purnell, in Transcultural Health Care: A culturally Competent Approach, defines cultural competence as: "developing an awareness of one's existence, sensations, thoughts, and the environment without letting it have an undue influence on those from other backgrounds; demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the client's culture; accepting and respecting cultural differences; adapting care to be congruent with the client's culture."

To simplify it, cultural competence is all about learning about the ways cultural differences can impact healthcare decisions and the ability to administer care to go along with a patient's culture. 

What barriers do cultural differences create?

There are numerous barriers that cultural differences create most especially between nurses and their patients:

Cultural traditions

Many cultures think about healthcare in different ways and some traditions kick against western medicine. For example, a person that comes from a Native America may not want to be placed on life support or resuscitated or someone born in Beijing may not want to take medication and may prefer to make use of traditional Chinese herbal medicines. So if a healthcare provider doesn't know all these they might have difficulty in connecting with such patients which is quite important. 


If the same language isn't spoken by nurses and their patients it is more challenging to provide quality healthcare and make the patient comfortable which is hard. It will be difficult for such a patient to be confident or inform the patient about his/her challenges. 

Health Literacy

Health literacy is affected also by the different understanding of healthcare from one culture to another. Some cultures may not know about some health conditions or how to look after their health daily. Nurses have to tell them about their diagnosis and the treatment needed in a way they can understand.

Cultural Assumptions

Several nurses have assumptions about different cultural groups which have developed over time because there wasn't accurate education about that particular culture.

The lack of knowledge about some cultures and cultural assumptions can give rise to challenges for both the nurses and the patients. 

5 ways nurses can provide culturally sensitive care

There are numerous ways nurses can make use to provide culturally sensitive care:

Don’t make assumptions

Nurses must avoid making assumptions about some cultures which they don't know about because this can lead to not communicating effectively and breaking of trust between the patient and nurses.

What to do:

Simply ask if you aren't sure about something. Most people will happily tell you things you don't know about their culture if you wish to listen and learn. When you are asking these questions be sure your body language shows openness and you truly want to listen to the patient


For any social issue, you have to have awareness first. As a nurse, you have to be aware of the need for culturally competent care. Several healthcare facilities and also their staffs, especially those working in the rural areas might not know that the medical sector requires culturally sensitive healthcare.

What to do

As you learn to become a culturally sensitive nurse, you should let others around you know and the reason why you are doing it. Encourage your co-workers to do the same. 

Understand the ways of other cultures

Part of your role as a nurse is to learn what you can about other cultures. Learn about their medical history, their medications list, and also their symptoms. Healthcare can only reach its full potential when every part of the patient is considered, which includes their daily life, their family, and their culture

What to do: 

Have a thought about different cultures you have come about as also about the cultures within your community. Try to learn about these cultures. You can visit the area you think the culture is more dominated in and also you can read about them from online sources or through books. 

Overcome language barriers

Language barriers worsen the challenges that nurses face when attending to culturally diverse patients. To have effective communication with a patient about their health history or when you want to educate them, there has to be no issue of language.

What to do

Ask your workplace if a translator is available, if not you can explore translation technology or apps although it might not be 100% accurate it will assist you to have an understanding of what your patient is saying. 

Also, you can make use of hand gestures or pictures to communicate effectively when necessary and you have to be patient. 

Build rapport and trust

For nurses, it's essential to build trust and rapport with their patients no matter their racial or ethnic backgrounds. However, when it comes to culturally diverse patients it requires a high level of trust.

What to do

Ask the facility for a translator and don't look at the translator when speaking rather look at the patient and talk with them like there is no language barrier. In this scenario, eye contact and body language are important so be certain to show kind and open body language and look to the patients when talking to them or the members of their family. 


It's no longer a choice for nurses to be culturally sensitive in today's cultural climate. Nurses have to be aware of these cultural differences and to be able to provide culturally competent care.

May 12, 2023

Natasha Osei

Passionate Nurse Practitioner | People person
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