As the nation's population becomes more diverse, so must the population of healthcare providers. When a nursing staff consists of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures — essentially mirroring the patients they are caring for — the result is fewer communication barriers and deeper connection. RNs can identify factors affecting patients' compliance or access to care and advocate on their behalf. This enables nurses to customize treatment and support patients in a way that improves quality, outcomes and satisfaction.
How Are Patient and Nursing Populations Changing?
Although population demographics are constantly in flux, there has been a steady trend toward greater racial diversity over the past several decades. That trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. According to the United States Census Bureau, over half of Americans will identify as minorities by 2044. By 2060, minorities will comprise 56% of the population, compared with 38% in 2014.
Despite the changes occurring in the overall population, these demographic shifts are not evident in nursing. Based on data from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), only 30% of RNs will be from racial or ethnic minority groups by 2030 — an increase of just 2% since 2014. The lack of diversity in nursing is problematic, as it creates barriers to communication. This exacerbates existing healthcare disparities, where vulnerable populations receive poorer quality care and inadequate access to services.
How Does Cultural Competency Help?
Even when the diversity of the nursing staff is not ideal, cultural competency is a skill all RNs can use to respectfully engage with patients from different backgrounds. The American Hospital Association (AHA) defines cultural competency as the ability to "provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors, including the tailoring of healthcare delivery to meet patients' social, cultural and linguistic needs." While race and ethnicity are often the focus of cultural competency, it is important to remember that it includes any differentiating factors like gender, religion, disability, age, orientation and socioeconomic status.
As the patient population becomes more diverse, so do patient needs, viewpoints and preferences, and these differences culminate to influence virtually every aspect of care from dietary restrictions to verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Practicing cultural competency allows nurses to bridge cultural or social gaps, empathize with patients, and provide the most effective care. RNs should acknowledge that every patient is different, seek to understand their values and preferences, and actively find ways to overcome any barriers preventing the provision of appropriate care.
What Is Culturally Congruent Practice?
Nurses are instrumental in minimizing or eliminating disparities across the healthcare system and that begins with providing inclusive care. The American Nurses Association (ANA) calls this "culturally congruent practice" and has included it as one of the standards of professional performance every nurse is expected to uphold. RNs must practice "in a manner that is congruent with cultural diversity and inclusion principles."
To demonstrate culturally congruent practice and inclusivity, nurses should:
- Be curious about other cultures, worldviews and viewpoints
- Consider the implications of making assumptions that are based on a patient's gender, race or other characteristics
- Demonstrate empathy and respect to all patients
- Commit to lifelong learning about different cultures, communities and preferences
- Inventory their own values, beliefs and cultural background
- Utilize medical translators and interpreters to transcend language barriers
The benefits of a diverse nursing staff cannot be understated. Patients who see themselves reflected in their healthcare providers are more likely to be cooperative and open to discussing their personal situation. This level of communication leads to more targeted care, better outcomes and improved satisfaction. By committing to inclusiveness and the practice of culturally congruent care, RNs help diminish existing healthcare disparities and ensure patients receive fair and equitable treatment.
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