Cultural Competency

Today, we hear a variety of words tossed around such as racism, cultural sensitivity, cultural awareness, cultural competency among others. To clearly understand the significance of cultural competency, one has to understand what it is not.

What is racism?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial difference produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; racial prejudice or discrimination.

What is Cultural Awareness?
Having sensitivity and understanding towards members of other ethnic groups.

What is Cultural Competency?
It is the ability to effectively operate within different cultural contexts.

What does cultural competency in health care mean?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health, cultural competence is the:

  • ability of health organizations and practitioners to recognize the cultural beliefs, attitudes and health practices of diverse populations, and
  • to apply that knowledge in every intervention; at the systems level or at the individual level

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) Center for Linguistic and Cultural Competence in Health Care is mandated by Congress to:

  • Develop projects to eliminate language barriers for Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals to increase their access to health care.
  • Develop Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) Standards Project.
  • Create Cultural Competency Curriculum Modules (CCCMs).
  • Create Hispanic Cultural Competence for Medical Education Curriculum.

From these mandates, OMH developed 14 National Recommended Standards to inform, guide, and facilitate implementation of CLAS. Of these 14 recommended standards, the first three deal directly with cultural competent care.

They are:

  • Patients and consumers receive effective, understandable, and respectful health care.
  • Recruitment, retention, and promotion of diverse staff and leadership.
  • All staff receives ongoing education and training.


A 2002 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) shows that racial minorities receive appropriate care less frequently, which has an adverse impact on their health outcomes, including a higher reoccurrence of morbidity (incidence of disease) and mortality (death) rates.

Therefore there is a huge need for cultural competent health care professionals and to increase the numbers of minority health care professionals providing care to those minorities. Healthy People 2010 report states that the reality of health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities highlights the need for increased numbers of culturally competent health care providers. The chart below shows we have a long way to go in increasing those disparities in minority health care professionals even though many ethnic groups are not represented here.

Why is this Important? Racial and Ethnic Distribution of Selected Health Professions: Source: HRSA, U.S. Census 2000

Click to enlarge

Asian/PI = Asian/Pacific Islanders
AI = American Indians

GRAAHI will work towards increasing minority applications to health care curriculums as well as assisting those minority students in successful completion of those courses. Current health care professionals need to be proactive and attend cultural competency trainings even if not required by their health care employer. Remember, becoming cultural competent is a life long journey and something to strive for, not a one time class where you will learn only a small part of what cultural competency is but an ongoing process.

Where can healthcare professionals get cultural competency training?

The curriculum will assist participants in building capacity to understand:

  • the importance of cultural competence in healthcare
  • healthcare disparities
  • individual/group beliefs and behaviors with regard to healthcare
  • their own cultural perspectives
  • communication skills that assist in providing competent and inclusive care to a diverse customer/patient base.

The Cultural Competency trainings are available at "no cost" to healthcare professionals and college students in Kent County. A total of 12 series with five training modules will be offered from Fall 2005 thru Spring 2006. See brochure for further information.