Culturally Competent Care for Healthcare Workers

Every patient you encounter has a unique set of life experiences, beliefs, and values. While there is no “one size fits all” approach to caretaking, being a culturally competent healthcare provider will help you deliver the most effective, patient-centered care you can.

What is culturally competent care?

Culturally competent care aims to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of patients, taking their unique culture, ethnicity, and race into account.

How can I practice culturally competent care?

Be respectful of other’s beliefs and values, even when they differ from yours. Practice compassion and understanding in all of your interactions.

Providing culturally competent care also means having a basic knowledge of how different cultures may perceive different behaviors, gestures, or concepts. Below is a “cheat sheet” of everyday occurances and what they may convey to different populations:

Eye Contact:

Western culture- Direct, extended eye contact conveys interest and engagement, looking away indicates disinterest or lack of engagement.

Middle Eastern culture- Eye contact between men and women is frowned upon, as it indicates desire. Extended eye contact between members of the same sex may indicate truthfulness.

Asian, Latin American, and African cultures- Extended eye contact can be viewed as a challenge, sporadic eye contact may be viewed as polite and respectful.

Personal Space:

United States And United Kingdom- Americans and the British like roughly 4 feet between themselves and whoever they are talking to.

Europeans- Generally speaking, Europeans prefer a social distance of 2-3 feet

Asians- Asians tend to be more comfortable with a closer social distance

Latin Americans- Latin Americans prefer a closer social distance, often accompanied by touch


Monochronic cultures: Monochronic cultures believe the focus should be on one thing at a time, and that time is a commodity that can be “wasted.” Being late is considered disrespectful. Monochronic cultures include the United States and Northern Europe.

Polychronic Cultures- Polychronic cultures believe time can not be controlled and they value being flexible. Sticking to a set time or agenda may not be important. Southern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East are considered polychronic cultures.

The Individual vs. The Group:

In the United States and Western and Northern Europe, the goals of the individual are more valued and rewarded than the goals of the group.

In Asian, African, and South American cultures, the needs of the group may be considered more important than the needs of the individual.


United States- Americans often shake hands as a greeting, and may hug friends or family

France, Italy, Spain- Shaking hands or kissing on both cheeks is acceptable

Japan- Bowing from the waist is respectful, although handshakes are also common with westerners.

Middle Eastern, Muslim, and Orthodox Jews- No physical contact between men and women. People of the same sex may hug.

Culturally Competent Care for Healthcare Workers

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