Skip to main content
Herzing University

Jessica Neddersen

Cultural Competence in Healthcare

Diversity, equity and inclusion are a fundamental part of the Herzing Community.

Diversity, equity and inclusion are a fundamental part of the Herzing Community. Herzing University is committed to providing a safe, diverse educational environment that is free from discrimination. We strive to create a culture of respect where individuals feel valued, heard and empowered in their learning community.

To highlight and engage in civil discourse on important topics surrounding diversity, Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Herzing University Terri Howard has started a new series called T.R.U.E. (Time to Really Understand Everyone) Talk with Terri. It provides an opportunity to begin to understand the different types of diversity that exist and ask questions.

Why are these topics important? 

Respecting diversity is an important mission for any organization. The definition of diversity is the practice or quality of including people from a range of social, gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

We will always encounter people who are different than us. While there is no way to process and understand everyone’s background, we all must try to develop cultural competence. Cultural competence is the foundation of a successful organization, especially in healthcare.

What is cultural competence? 

The definition of cultural competence has not yet been universally accepted because it is conceptualized and operationalized in many ways. This variance in the definition can sometimes lead to disagreement about what needs to change and how healthcare organizations can implement those changes.

Howard provided her own definition of cultural competence as “the ability of providers and healthcare organizations to meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of patients.” This definition is purposefully broad to encompass many individuals.

“Perhaps cultural competence should be called diversity competence since it includes so many types of people,” Howard said in her T.R.U.E. Talk.

Often the term cultural competence is only applied to racial and ethnic minority populations. While this is important, this definition may be too narrow, and it omits other marginalized groups. This can include socioeconomic and environmental disadvantages in addition to gender, sexuality and language inequalities, among others.

What does diversity in healthcare look like?

Besides the diverse patient population that healthcare professionals serve, there are other types of diversity that healthcare professionals encounter in the field:

  • Healthcare professionals: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76% of all healthcare positions are held by women. Additionally, 91% of all nurses are female, but more men are joining the profession, bringing greater gender diversity to nursing than other healthcare professions. Herzing graduates – such as Anthony Pierson, who is African American and a former military nurse – are further diversifying the industry by bringing their unique experiences into healthcare.
  • Healthcare treatment: Underlying health issues, culture, religious beliefs and gender can influence a healthcare professional’s treatment of a patient in addition to the health issue that person might be facing.

Diversity Questions to Consider

There are some questions that healthcare professionals should consider and evaluate as they begin to explore diversity in healthcare.

What types of questions should we be asking?

Unfortunately, we often don’t appreciate our knowledge gaps until we encounter a situation that we don’t know how to react to. For example, sometimes people stereotype others when they appear different from themselves. Healthcare professionals should steer away from stereotypes.

Stereotypes make a generalization about someone without considering their unique personality and condition. However, having cultural awareness to realize some generalities about a culture allow nurses to recognize some generalizations about culture and prompts the nurse to ask more questions. Generalizations should be a starting point to begin to learn more, it should never be the conclusion to a problem.

How do you ask someone about how to take care of them in an appropriate way?

As a healthcare professional, you may have a patient who has a different hair or skin type than you, and you are unsure of how to treat them. While it may seem awkward and nerve-racking to ask your patient some questions, it does not have to be.

If you have a question, just politely ask. You can use situationally appropriate phrases, whether that is stating “I need to understand” or “I am inexperienced,” so you can properly care for your patient. It is not always WHAT you say to someone, but HOW you say it to someone. Sometimes, people feel offended because of the way that they are approached and not by the question that is asked.

How do you deal with language barriers?

While much of the U.S. population speaks English exclusively, there is a portion that doesn’t. If there isn’t someone at your healthcare organization who can help you translate, try looking up common phrases online. Using a resource like Google Translate to ask “Can you squeeze my hand?” or “How are you feeling?” in someone’s native language may be appreciated as it demonstrates to the patient that you’re trying.

Make a Change

“Changing clinical environments can be key to improving culturally competent care. However, for those gains to translate into culturally competent behaviors the structures of healthcare systems and organizations must also change,” Howard said. “Everyone in a healthcare position should learn more, do more, and get involved in changing the system for everyone.”

If you want to make a difference in promoting diversity, equity and inclusion for all people, you can begin by increasing your knowledge, understanding and cultural competence.

Learn More About Our Healthcare Programs


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2022 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Request Information
Ready to get started?

Contact us to request more information

Opt-In to Receive SMS Messages

By selecting this button you agree to receive updates and alerts from Herzing University. Text HELP to 85109 for help, Text STOP to 85109 to end. Msg & Data Rates May Apply. By opting in, I authorize Herzing University to deliver SMS messages and I understand that I am not required to opt in as a condition of enrollment. By leaving this box unchecked you will not be opted in for SMS messages. Click to read Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.
Subscribe to Our Blog Newsletter

Get the latest news you need to know, from study hacks to interview tips to career advancement. Have it delivered right to your inbox biweekly.