Skip to Main Content

Clinician's Guide to Cultural Competency

A guide to understanding the role of culture in the clinical encounter and paying particular attention to the relationship between culture, contexts and social structures.

What is Cultural Competency?

Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations.

'Culture' refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups.

'Competence' implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities. (Adapted from Cross, 1989).

Why is Cultural Competency Important?

America is a country of many races and cultures, and with each passing year, more health care providers are recognizing the challenge of caring for patients that speak different languages or that have different cultural backgrounds.

Understanding someone’s cultural background assists in creating an individual and comprehensive plan of care for the patient as people with different cultural backgrounds may have diverse perspectives on health and wellness.

Research has shown that good communication between patients and health care providers is directly linked to patient satisfaction, treatment adherence and positive health outcomes.

Some Helpful Definitions

Acculturation: The product of culture learning that occurs as a result of contact between the members of two or more culturally distinct groups.

CLAS Standards: The collective set of culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) mandates, guidelines, and recommendations issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health intended to inform, guide, and facilitate required and recommended practices related to culturally and linguistically appropriate health services (National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care Final Report, OMH, 2001).

Culture: Integrated pattern of socially transmitted human behavior that includes thoughts, communication, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions, and all other products of human work or thought, characteristic of a particular community or population.

Disparity: Racial or ethnic differences in the quality of health care that are not due to access-related factors or clinical needs, preferences, and appropriateness of intervention

Ethnicity: Groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background.

Minority Group:  A part of a population differing from others in some characteristics and often subjected to differential treatment.

Race: a human population considered distinct based on physical characteristics.

Other Available Guides

If you are looking for help with another topic, please search our available guides here: