Seven Steps to Become a More Culturally Sensitive Nurse

Seven Steps to Become a More Culturally Sensitive Nurse

The world is a diverse mosaic of cultures, beliefs, and practices. As globalization increases and migration patterns shift, healthcare professionals, especially nurses, find themselves caring for patients from a vast array of cultural backgrounds. Culturally sensitive nursing is no longer just a niche skill but a necessity. Being culturally sensitive ensures that patient care is tailored, respectful, and effective. Here are seven steps to help nurses cultivate cultural sensitivity.

  1. Recognize Your Own Cultural Background and Biases:
    • Understand Yourself: Before understanding others, recognize your own cultural background, values, and beliefs. By doing so, you gain insight into how your personal experiences might influence your perceptions and interactions with patients.
    • Acknowledge Biases: Everyone has biases. Accepting this fact and identifying your own can help prevent these biases from affecting patient care.
  2. Educate Yourself About Different Cultures:
    • Continuous Learning: The world is vast and diverse. Invest time in learning about different cultures, religions, and traditions. Books, courses, and workshops can be invaluable resources.
    • Ask Questions: When in doubt, ask patients about their preferences, beliefs, and practices. They are the best source of information about their own culture.
  3. Develop Active Listening Skills:
    • Be Present: When patients speak, be fully present. This means minimizing distractions and truly focusing on what the patient is saying.
    • Non-verbal Cues: Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These can offer clues about a patient’s feelings and concerns.
  4. Use Professional Interpreters When Necessary:
    • Avoid Using Family Members: While it might be tempting to use a patient’s family member as an interpreter, this can lead to misinterpretations or omitted information.
    • Respect Privacy: Ensure that conversations remain confidential, even when using an interpreter.
  5. Adapt to Individual Needs:
    • Flexibility: Recognize that each patient is unique. What works for one patient might not work for another, even if they come from the same cultural background.
    • Inclusivity: Ensure that all patients feel included and respected, regardless of their cultural, linguistic, or religious background.
  6. Seek Feedback:
    • Patient Feedback: Regularly ask patients for feedback on your care. This can provide insights into areas where you might improve your cultural sensitivity.
    • Peer Review: Collaborate with colleagues and seek their feedback. They might notice things you’ve overlooked.
  7. Engage in Cultural Exchange Opportunities:
    • Travel: If possible, travel to different countries or regions to immerse yourself in other cultures.
    • Community Involvement: Participate in community events, workshops, or groups that focus on cultural exchange.

Seven Steps to Cultivating Cultural Sensitivity in Nursing

With the cultural landscape of the U.S. undergoing rapid transformations, healthcare professionals, especially nurses, must equip themselves with the tools and knowledge to serve an increasingly diverse population. A study by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing indicates that over a third (37%) of the American populace comprises individuals from racial and ethnic minorities. Predictions suggest that by 2043, this group will represent the majority. Despite this shift, a mere 19% of the nursing workforce belongs to these minority backgrounds, leading to challenges in delivering care to this varied demographic.

As ethnic and cultural diversity grows, each group brings its distinct cultural attributes. Some racial groups also face health issues unique to them. Given the significant amount of time nurses spend with patients, from admission to discharge, cultural competence becomes indispensable. Culturally competent healthcare not only ensures improved patient outcomes but also lends accuracy to medical research.

Understanding Cultural Competence

Dr. Larry D. Purnell, PhD, RN, FAAN, in his work “Transcultural Health Care: A Culturally Competent Approach,” describes cultural competence as the ability to recognize and respect one’s own and others’ cultural backgrounds, and adjust care in alignment with the patient’s cultural context. Simply put, it’s about understanding how cultural nuances can influence healthcare decisions and tailoring care accordingly.

Challenges Posed by Cultural Disparities

Cultural differences introduce various barriers in healthcare, primarily between nurses and patients:

  1. Language: A language gap can significantly hinder the delivery of quality medical care. When patients revert to their native language, especially under stress, communication becomes challenging.
  2. Cultural Traditions: Cultural norms can sometimes be at odds with conventional medical practices. It’s essential to understand and respect these traditions to ensure effective treatment.
  3. Health Literacy: Cultural variations can lead to disparities in health awareness, making it crucial for nurses to bridge this knowledge gap.
  4. Cultural Assumptions: Misconceptions about cultures can impair the nurse-patient relationship.

Steps to Enhance Cultural Sensitivity in Nursing

Here are seven actionable steps for nurses to elevate their cultural sensitivity:

  1. Awareness: Recognize the importance of culturally competent care. Spread this awareness positively among peers and colleagues.
  2. Avoid Making Assumptions: Always seek clarification instead of making presumptions about unfamiliar cultures.
  3. Educate Yourself: Take proactive steps to learn about different cultures. Challenge any preconceived notions and replace them with informed knowledge.
  4. Build Trust and Rapport: Establishing trust is paramount, especially when language barriers exist. Maintain direct communication, even when using a translator.
  5. Address Language Barriers: Utilize translators, technology, or visual aids to overcome language challenges, ensuring patience and understanding.
  6. Educate Patients About Medical Practices: Ensure patients understand medical procedures, aligning their care with their cultural context.
  7. Practice Active Listening: Give patients undivided attention, validating their concerns and ensuring clear communication.

The Imperative of Cultural Sensitivity in Healthcare

In the evolving cultural milieu, cultural sensitivity isn’t a luxury—it’s a mandate. By embracing cultural differences and delivering culturally attuned care, nurses can foster trust, enhance treatment acceptance, and facilitate ongoing education for communities in need.


Culturally sensitive nursing is about more than just knowing facts about different cultures. It’s about approaching patient care with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a deep respect for individual differences. By following these seven steps, nurses can ensure they provide care that is both effective and respectful, regardless of a patient’s cultural background.

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