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The Importance of Cultural Competency in Family Nurse Practitioners

A nurse talks to a young patient and his mother.Why is there an increased need for culturally sensitive and bilingual nurses in the family practice setting, and how can nurses build these vital skills?

Due to increasing immigration, the multiculturalism of American society, and overall impact of globalization, there is a growing need for culturally sensitive and bilingual nurses in family practice settings.

It’s important that family nurse practitioners make building and maintaining these skills a priority in their ongoing education and on-the-job learning.

Why Cultural Sensitivity is Critical

America is a nation of immigrants. For centuries we have welcomed people from diverse immigrant and cultural groups, and the United States continues to be an attractive nation to people from around the globe.

According to data from the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), the U.S. immigrant population stood at more than 42.4 million, or 13.3 percent, of the total population of 318.9 million in 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, the foreign-born population increased by one million, or 2.5 percent. Immigrants and their U.S.-born children now number approximately 81 million people, or 26 percent of the overall population.1 In some communities, “minorities” now outnumber traditional majority groups.

However, culture isn’t only a matter of race and ethnicity, it also comprises the changing and multidimensional context of many aspects of a person’s life. It encompasses gender, faith, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, and disability.

Thus, “cultural competency” or “cultural awareness and sensitivity” means being able to understand and appreciate how different groups, sub-groups, and cultures operate and how to be sensitive and adaptable to their needs.

This is particularly important in healthcare, as many cultural groups are often underserved or unserved by medical care.2 This can be for a range of reasons, but a lack of cultural competence on the part of healthcare providers is certainly one important factor that can be changed.

Family nurse practitioners not only work in primary care settings, they also work in hospitals, schools, homes, correctional facilities, rural clinics, and more. With such a broad range of potential career outlooks, it’s essential that they are able to service a diverse client base appropriately and sensitively. Cultural sensitivity is a key criterion for meeting the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) Code of Ethics.

Cultural Sensitivity in Action

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) provides a number of helpful examples to demonstrate cultural awareness in action and highlight its importance.

  • A physician unaware that some African American patients may find being referred to by their first name as disrespectful risks offending – and perhaps losing – a patient.
  • A nurse who doesn’t realize that for many women of Hispanic heritage it’s customary to involve family members in medical and personal decisions may alienate a patient by pushing them to make a solo decision about an important health issue.

How Family Nurse Practitioners Can Build Their Cultural Competency

There are so many examples of times where such sensitivities are needed, and the best place to start is by examining your own cultural awareness. Raise your awareness of the particular groups and people you serve as a nurse, and ensure you understand their particular beliefs and needs.

There are numerous ways that nurses can build and maintain this cultural competency. Among them, cultural sensitivity training, language and ethics programs, and higher education are great pathways to pursue.

Good guidelines for on-the-job and ongoing learning may include; always being curious of ways to increase your cultural education and exposure; not making assumptions about any groups or individuals; and compassionately respecting all patients’ individual rights, even when they may be foreign or unfamiliar to you.

Above all else, it’s essential to keep increasing your awareness and education as much as possible.

By investing in your ongoing nursing education, you will be better able to serve a diverse array of patients and provide better health outcomes. Find out more about obtaining a Family Nurse Practitioner MSN with Loyola University New Orleans.