Nurses need cultural competency education to meet needs of diverse patients

Cultural competency and understanding of different cultures' perspectives on healthcare are increasingly non-negotiable for nurses, particularly in diverse areas of the country, according to a report at

"When you look at our hospital, we are virtually a melting pot of all different relations and culture,"  Susan Olson, R.N., a staff nurse and coordinator of service excellence at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey, told She organized a Diversity Awareness Day at the medical center in May, which was attended by more than 400 staff members, to raise understanding of the cultural groups most commonly seeking care at the hospital. The hospital has prepared a resource guide for posting on its intranet.

Nurses must try to be sensitive to various cultural differences, as well as religious and sexual preferences, the report says. Patients may have different attitudes about healthcare, family involvement, rituals surrounding birth and death, and beliefs about the causes of illness. For instance, patients from one culture may be stoic and not reveal their level of pain, or Muslim women may prefer a female nurse or aide.

The need for education in working with diverse patients isn't limited to nurses. A recent report said medical schools should provide training in cultural competency to future physicians. To better serve patients, hospitals can take steps such as establishing programs to focus on the needs of various ethnic groups, providing inpatient services such as language interpretation, and adding ethnic foods to meet patients' needs. The Equity of Care Initiative and the American Hospital Association's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence created a guide to such issues in 2013, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

While diversity has traditionally focused on different ethnic or religious, that perspective has broadened to include sexual orientation and gender identification. A recent study found few providers are trained or equipped for LGBT patients' care needs.

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