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Providing culturally competent care

The importance of cultural competence

Canada is increasingly becoming a country of varied cultures. The city of Toronto is now recognized as the most ethnically diverse city in the world. Nurses continually encounter cultural factors that influence the reactions of patients and families to illness and that facilitate or impede nursing care and/or the nurse patient/family relationship.

Providing culturally competent care

Understand your own cultural beliefs, values and practices. Learn about how your culture is similar to or different from your colleagues and the families for whom you provide care.

Apply the same principles of respect, openness and mutuality to culturally unique families as you would with families of the same or similar background as you.

Take time to understand the family's immigration experience or their degree of cultural assimilation.

  • How do they define their family?
  • Who does and how do they make decisions about health and treatment?
  • What are their beliefs about health, illness, behaviour, symptoms and stress?
  • How do treatment recommendations seem to be similar to or different from their own cultural practices?

Assess; don't assume. Assess the influence of the family's cultural background on the child's behaviour specific to health and illness. Don't assume that this child will act the same as the last child you took care of from the same cultural or ethnic group.

Consider that the child and family member(s) have unique personal experiences in the healthcare system, and then see the person as a member of a specific cultural/ethnic group.

Confirm if the "facts, hunches, information" that you have about a cultural group are accepted or practiced by your patient/family.

Identify the family's culturally influenced practices, strengths and/or beliefs that you can include or support within what will be a mutually agreed upon plan.

Recognize that a family's cultural background will influence illness-related behaviour as will previous health care experiences, level of education, degree of acculturation, language skills and socioeconomic status.

Reference: Johnson and Jeppson (1992), Caring for Children and Families: Guidelines for Hospitals and Metropolitan-Indochinese Children and Adolescent Services, Massachusetts