Culturally Sensitive Caregiving for Nurses

The U.S. is often described as a “melting pot” of cultures, with the number of ethnically and culturally diverse groups expanding rapidly. A study published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), showed that individuals with racial and ethnic minority backgrounds made up more than one-third of the American population in 2014. In fact, it’s projected that minority populations will soon make up the majority by the year 2043. However, there are far fewer registered nurses in the workforce from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds.

Nurses maintain a powerful position in the healthcare industry. They spend more time with patients than any other healthcare provider, lend their voices and experiences to advocate for their patients’ best care and shape hospital policies that positively impact patients and their families.

One way to fine-tune your caregiving skills is through an advanced nursing degree, like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Administrative Leadership online program from Northeastern State University (NSU). This program prioritizes coursework that expands on current trends and issues facing the profession, research and evidence-based practices and cultural perspectives.

The Code of Ethics for Nurses from the American Nurses Association (ANA), a document that serves as the profession’s “non-negotiable ethical standard,” specifically states that nurses should “practice with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and personal attributes of every person, without prejudice.” This calls for cultural competence and sensitivity to build patient trust in diverse populations authentically. 

What Is Cultural Competence?

In his book, Transcultural Health Care: A Culturally Competent Approach, Dr. Larry D. Purnell RN FAAN outlines the following points in his definition of cultural competence in healthcare:

  • Awareness of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts and environment without allowing it to influence individuals of other backgrounds
  • Showing keen knowledge and understanding of a patient’s culture
  • Acknowledging and showing respect for cultural differences
  • Adapting patient care to align with the patient’s culture

In other words, cultural competence is making a conscious effort to know and understand cultural differences and how they can impact healthcare decisions. This means acknowledging language barriers, cultural traditions and health literacy in different populations. Furthermore, nurses must be aware of their own cultural assumptions to effectively uphold the integrity of care outlined in the ANA’s Code of Ethics.

In addition to continued education, other practices that nurses can adopt to have an immediate impact on caregiving for the nation’s diverse populations include:

  1. Spreading awareness: According to the eighth provision of the Code of Ethics, nursing professionals should uphold a promise to use their voices to ensure quality health for all. In the case of increasing cultural sensitivity in the workforce, nurses must learn more about what this means and inform colleagues of these practices and their importance. This openness can shed light on the need for culturally sensitive healthcare in spaces that may not have considered it.
  2. Asking questions: Nurses should not shy away from respectfully asking questions about cultural or religious practices to better support patient needs. It is far more beneficial to take the opportunity to learn directly from the patient than to rely on personal assumptions. Encouraging patients to communicate openly can also build trust and show a genuine investment in their overall wellbeing.
  3. Actively listening: When in vulnerable positions like receiving care, patients should feel validated and affirmed, especially those of different racial or cultural backgrounds. Nurses must actively listen to patients to understand, not just respond. This ensures understanding on both sides.
  4. Educating: Patients must be able to give informed consent for medical procedures regardless of racial or cultural experience. When nurses ensure patients understand the fundamentals of a procedure, they give patients the confidence to make informed decisions regarding their health. This may require the help of a translator if a language barrier exists. Nonetheless, clearly educating patients on available services and instructing them how to maintain health at home ensures positive patient experiences and outcomes.

In today’s increasingly diverse society, developing cultural sensitivity as a nurse is a necessity. Nursing practice is rooted in building trusted relationships with patients. Considering nursing’s consistent status as the country’s most-trusted profession, a commitment to cultural sensitivity is not to be taken lightly.

Learn more about Northeastern State University’s online MSN in Administrative Leadership program.


American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Enhancing Diversity in the Workplace

American Nurses Association: The Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements

American Nurses Association: ANA President Proud of Nurses for Maintaining #1 Spot in Gallup’s 2019 Most Honest and Ethical Professions Poll

Every Nurse: Seven Steps to Become a More Culturally Sensitive Nurse How to Care for Patients from Different Cultures

Transcultural Health Care: A Culturally Competent Approach

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