Cultural competence and patient-centered care in nursing

Nurses care for diverse patients in the healthcare landscape. These patients have different backgrounds and cultures, which may impact how nurses deliver care to each of them. This is where cultural competence and patient-centered care come in.

This article will discuss the importance of cultural competence and patient-centered care in nursing and how you, as a nurse, can hone these skills. Nurses must understand the significance of cultural competence and patient-centered care to support diverse patients effectively.

The benefits of cultural competence and patient-centered care

These essential skills help nurses communicate effectively with different individuals, build trust and relationships and provide higher quality care. If you’re in the nursing field, it’s crucial to hone and improve these two skills. An online MSN FNP program, such as the one offered by University of Indianapolis, can help students achieve this. Their part-time online program, designed for working professionals, educates nurses on clinical expertise and integrates the importance of social and cultural factors in patient care. In addition, the coursework can be completed in as little as 32 months, allowing prospective students to advance in their career quicker, without compromising on quality.

Here are eight benefits of these two essential skills:

Improved communication

Cultural competence can bridge communication gaps in healthcare services. Nurses who understand a patient’s cultural background can easily decode the patient’s verbal cues, body language and even silences. This understanding allows for a more nuanced interaction, and this isn’t even about speaking the same language.

Culturally competent nurses must be able to comprehend the subtleties that come with different cultural norms. For example, some cultures believe direct eye contact is a sign of respect, while others may see it as disrespect. Some religions are also firmly against blood donation, while others support it. Knowing these little distinctions can help nurses adjust their communication style significantly.

However, nurses may struggle to develop their cultural competence skills alone. Healthcare institutions can support them by providing training programs, such as language classes when the majority of patients don’t speak English or communication workshops that teach effective listening techniques.

Another way to improve communication is through interpreters. While translation services aren’t a substitute for direct communication skills, they can get the job done, especially during emergencies. Healthcare institutions can reduce the risk of misunderstandings and poor patient satisfaction by making an interpreter available.

Nurses can also use technological tools such as electronic health records (EHRs) to note patient-specific cultural needs. These EHRs can contain notes on the patient’s preferred language and cultural beliefs that can affect healthcare decisions. This way, nurses are informed before entering the patient’s room.

Enhanced trust

Patients are more likely to share their medical histories and personal experience with nurses when they trust them. A patient from a conservative culture may feel uncomfortable discussing their sexual health or mental wellness. However, if you, as a nurse, establish a trusting relationship with this individual, they may open up more easily, which can help simplify your diagnosis.

The strategy behind establishing trust is active listening. Nurses should really listen to their patients. Concentrate on what they say, try to understand their point of view, and respond thoughtfully to their statements. Active listening isn’t only about listening to what patients say; you should also make an effort to interpret their emotions. This will help you pick up on concerns that patients may not explicitly express.

Nurses can undergo training sessions on effective communication to refine their trust-building skills. They can also participate in simulated patient scenarios, often used in nursing education, to gain practical experience in building trust.

You can also foster trust by involving your patients in treatment decisions. A patient-centered approach encourages shared decision making rather than implementing a paternalistic model where the healthcare provider makes all the decisions. This means that if a patient needs to start a new medication, nurses can discuss the options available, along with their pros and cons, to help patients feel involved and proactive in their treatment. You can use tools like decision aids, which provide balanced information about treatment options, to facilitate these conversations.

Ultimately, the backbone of building trust is honesty. Be transparent about procedures, the risks of a medical process and possible treatment outcomes. Being honest gives patients the full picture of the treatment process, and this can help eliminate fear or skepticism.

Reduced healthcare disparities

Healthcare disparities happen when individuals have access to significantly different healthcare. It’s the unequal distribution of healthcare resources and medical care across different racial or ethnic groups. In situations like this, individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not receive the same quality healthcare services and advanced medical care as someone from a more privileged background.

While healthcare disparities usually happen due to a lack of quality healthcare access, a lack of cultural competence can also exacerbate them. Culturally competent care focuses on the factors that can lead to healthcare disparities, allowing nurses to tailor their services to each patient’s needs.

One area in which cultural competence can manifest itself is preventive healthcare. For example, some cultures or religions may have specific beliefs about vaccines that contradict mainstream medical advice. In this case, a culturally aware nurse would know these beliefs, and approach the topic in a way that respects them, while still providing evidence-based care. This way, individuals can take vaccines to prevent medical issues that may happen in the future. This can also lead to lower rates of preventable diseases among these populations.

One of the most effective ways to develop cultural competence is through formal training programs. These programs teach nurses to understand cultural norms and values and help them recognize their own biases and work to improve them. You can also enroll in interactive workshops, online courses and exchange programs that let nurses work in diverse settings.

Beyond formal education, another gem is real-world experience. Seek mentorship from experienced colleagues who have expertise in culturally competent care. Mentors can teach you the necessary skills you need to be culturally competent. This mentor-mentee relationship will give you first-hand experiences that complement classroom-based education. After all, the best way to learn is by doing.

Tailored healthcare

In patient-centered care, tailored healthcare customizes healthcare services to meet the specific needs of patients. It’s a personalized approach that enhances the quality-of-care nurses provide and ensures every patient is supported.

Cultural competence also plays a role in enabling tailored healthcare services. Nurses can better understand their patient’s unique needs when they’re sensitive to their cultural and social differences. A patient may have dietary preferences that may significantly impact their health due to their religion.

It’s the same way end-of-life care can vary dramatically between cultures. Some cultures may prefer aggressive treatment till the end, while others may choose palliative care. A culturally competent and patient-centered approach would discuss these preferences with the patient and their family to determine the treatment plan that should be implemented.

There are several nursing programs that teach future nurses the importance of viewing patients as a whole person rather than a set of symptoms. Nurses can enroll in these training programs to access the necessary skills to identify and respect the cultural factors that may influence their patient’s healthcare outcomes. You should also incorporate practical experiences into the mix. Participate in clinical rotations in diverse healthcare settings and utilize virtual simulations that mimic real-life scenarios.

Better adherence to treatment plans

Cultural competence and patient-centered care make patients feel understood and respected. It helps them trust that healthcare professionals consider their circumstances and cultural backgrounds when treating them. Patients are more open to trust when healthcare providers make them feel this way, and a trusting patient is more likely to adhere to treatment.

Take John, a diabetic patient, from a culture with a carbohydrate-heavy diet, for example. A culturally competent nurse would take the time to understand John’s eating habits and preferences. Then, they’ll tailor the diabetes management plan to be culturally sensitive to John’s food preferences while still being medically sound.

If rice is a staple food in John’s meals, the nurse may explore other options, such as portion control or substituting white rice with brown or cauliflower rice. The nurse may even provide recipes that align with John’s cultural preferences that are diabetes friendly. This way, it’ll be easier for John to adhere to a plan that doesn’t feel alien to his way of life.

To promote better adherence to treatment plans, nurses can employ evidence-based guidelines that consider cultural factors. They can then implement these guidelines into clinical pathways and electronic health record systems to provide point-of-care support. For instance, specific communities may have higher occurrences of lactose intolerance. In cases like this, the nurse should offer lactose-free options to these patients when prescribing medications that come in both pill and liquid form.

Emotional support

Every patient enters healthcare in a vulnerable state. This is why healthcare providers must constantly reassure their patients. When a nurse understands a patient’s cultural and emotional context, they’re better equipped to offer genuine emotional support to this patient. For example, some cultures don’t discuss terminal illnesses in the open. For cultures like this, nurses can find a private place to discuss this topic and offer emotional support that aligns with the patient’s cultural norms.

You can enroll in empathy training programs to sharpen your ability to offer emotionally supportive care. These programs include various topics, such as how to understand emotional cues and the practical strategies you can use to convey empathy. These programs may utilize multiple training techniques, including role-playing exercises and video demonstrations, to acquaint nurses with emotional support techniques.

You can also tap into your emotional support training with mindfulness. Mindfulness helps nurses to be fully present during patient interactions. Paying full attention to your patients during discussions will help you pick up on subtle emotional cues you may otherwise miss.

You can ask experienced nurses for valuable insights into providing emotional support across different cultural settings. These professionals are more experienced in interacting with diverse patients and may have one or two tips to give you. Plus, more experienced nurses sharing best practices and case studies within their healthcare teams can encourage collective learning and improvement.

Prevention of medical errors

Nurses who understand and respect a patient’s cultural background will easily avoid errors due to cultural misinterpretation. Errors like this could include incorrect medication dosage based on false assumptions or mismanagement of symptoms due to cultural misunderstandings.

For instance, some cultures rely on herbal medicine in place of traditional western medicine. Nurses must ask about all the treatments a patient uses, not just prescribed medications, to prevent potential drug interactions.

In another instance, healthcare professionals may underestimate or overestimate a patient’s pain level due to misunderstanding the patient’s cultural beliefs about pain expression. This, in turn, can lead to inappropriate pain management strategies.

Nurses must continuously train regarding cultural best practices to be skilled enough to avoid medical errors. Many healthcare institutions offer these training sessions as part of their professional development programs. This training may include modules on understanding cultural attitudes toward healthcare, traditional practices and communication norms.

Resource optimization

Nurses are better equipped to allocate resources such as time and medical supplies when they understand the diverse needs of their patients. They can do this in a way that maximizes positive health outcomes for every patient.

For example, if you, as a nurse, know that most of the patient population is not fluent in English, you may allocate resources to provide translation services. There are also instances where nurses may need to allocate resources to alternative treatments because of cultural taboos.

Regardless of their settings, nurses must ensure every resource, from informational materials to medication, is enough for everyone. To achieve this, they must have an adequate resource allocation strategy. One way to keep these strategies up to date is through regular assessments and community needs updates. This can be achieved through community health surveys or consulting with local community leaders. The data gathered from these sources can provide valuable insights into the community’s healthcare needs and allocating proper resources for the area that needs them.

Another way nurses can optimize resources is through technology. Advanced healthcare analytics can provide data-driven insights into patient needs and resource utilization. Nurses can use this data to make informed decisions. For example, an analytics tool can identify trends regarding the most required medications for a particular demographic. This analysis can allow for more efficient stock management. 


Cultural competence and patient-centered care are essential frameworks that can significantly elevate the quality of nursing practice, especially with diverse patient populations. These approaches give nurses the skills to provide care and to be emotionally supportive, socially responsible and culturally sensitive.