Cultural Competency

Cultural Competency is having the skills needed to work well with people from different backgrounds. These difference can include racial/ethnic, socio-economic, geographic, gender, sexual orientation and religious differences.

In the health care field, culture might determine how people understand health information.  Many may have different beliefs about disease.  For example, some Image of Nurse Helping Womancultures believe people get sick because their body is in an imbalanced state. Others may believe that home remedies are better than prescription drugs. 

It is important for health care staff to understand the different beliefs of their patients to effectively treat them.  Understanding family dynamics, their traditional health practices and beliefs, as well as how health systems in their countries of origin operate can be crucial to service quality and patient compliance with treatment and medications. People may feel like they are treated differently based on their background if health care staff does not appear to be respectful or willing to understand their needs. 

Communicating Health Information

Part of cultural competency is the ability to communicate with consumers of health care that are not fluent in English. A culturally competent health care worker or facility will link patients with a service that can communicate with the consumer in a linguistically appropriate manner. The importance of implementing Image of Pregnant Woman with her PhysicianLanguage Access Services[1] is critical to quality healthcare. It is also important that healthcare organizations that receive any federal funds abide by the Federal Requirements for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS).

Cultural misunderstandings or the inability to communicate effectively can help cause health disparities, when they create an obstacle to accessing care.  Health care services that are respectful and responsive to the health beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients can help bring about positive health outcomes.

The following are links to additional information to help you learn about cultural competency, health disparities, and the different cultural groups in Pennsylvania and around the United States:


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Prevention Information Network

[1] Language access services (LAS) are also commonly referred to as language assistance services and linguistically appropriate services. LAS are services that are designed to ensure effective communication between limited English proficient individuals and English speakers. Primary LAS include interpretation (oral) and translation (written) services. LAS can also involve provisions that enhance communication, such as signage and symbols for wayfinding.  For more information, please visit the U. S. Office of Minority Health website