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Cultural Sensitivity and Awareness in Nursing


People of different cultures have unique beliefs, values, and practices. These differences make it challenging to offer health care that accommodates each individual. Some members of religious groups don’t believe in certain types of treatments, while other people may respond to pain and illness in unique ways. Those working in the health care field, particularly in nursing, must be aware of cultural differences and use sensitivity when treating each patient. As you work toward your online MSN degree, keep the following areas of awareness and sensitivity in mind:

Faith and Religious Beliefs

One of the most common cultural issues that arise for nurses involves faith and religious beliefs. Certain religious groups might refuse prescription medications, blood transfusions, surgeries, or other potentially life-saving treatments because of their religious beliefs. Nurses may struggle to understand these beliefs and may disagree with the patient’s decision to decline treatment, which is why developing sensitivity towards various religious beliefs is so important.


When a nurse asks questions and tries to better understand the beliefs of the patient, they can help make accommodations and, if possible, work around traditional treatment plans. This extra step can greatly improve the patient’s experience and relationship with their healthcare team.

Social and Economic Sensitivity

People within certain economic and social groups may also take a different approach to health care and treatment. Nurses have to overcome personal objections in these cases, but the first step to gaining cultural sensitivity and awareness is to never make assumptions about other people or what they believe. Individuals within similar groups or from similar upbringings might look at health care differently, so nursing professionals should focus on asking questions to gain a better understanding.


Each patient has a unique outlook on their situation and health, so it’s important to educate and treat instead of immediately making assumptions.


Gender preference and sexual orientation are also factors to keep in mind when treating patients. It is critical for nurses to provide all patients with the same treatment options, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trust and Respect

Without your patient’s trust, you will not be able to get very far in helping to develop and implement treatment programs. Building a relationship with each patient you treat will help you understand their beliefs and views and could provide insight into why they react in certain ways. For example, if the person has previously had negative experiences with doctors, nurses, or other health care professionals, it will make sense why they are hesitant to trust you or receive additional treatment. Work on building trust with patients by asking questions and listening to the answers.


If your patient struggles to speak or understand English, find a translator who can help make sure you understand one another. Even those who speak English well may struggle to understand complex terms or extensive treatment plans, so make it easier by bringing in someone who can help translate and alleviate some of that stress. In some cultures, it is important to consider the age and gender of the translator. A younger person might not be treated with the same respect when the patient is older, and a man in certain cultures might only speak through another male translator.


Respect is one of the most critical aspects when developing cultural sensitivity and awareness. If you don’t respect your patients, they will be much less likely to trust you or move forward with what you recommend in terms of treatment. When a patient feels like you are listening to and trying to understand their cultural differences, they are much more likely to respond in a positive manner. Don’t assume that your patients don’t know anything about their conditions or treatment options.


Take the time to understand your patient’s unique cultural beliefs by asking thoughtful, respectful questions. If you will continue treatment over several days or more, you can also do some research on your own to understand why they might react in certain ways. When speaking to your patient or their family members, use appropriate titles instead of first names, and make sure to pronounce their names correctly.

Improving Cultural Awareness and Sensitivity in Nursing

It’s not easy to overcome your own cultural worldview when treating patients, but it is a critical skill to develop for all within the nursing field. If you plan to further your nursing education, you will likely encounter different types of people and cultures as you move through your courses. You may even encounter coursework that touches on the changing cultural needs of patients and how to adapt when treating them. This is key information to have at your disposal as you begin your career, or as you continue your education. Some hospitals and health care facilities even offer cultural training on an annual basis for their employees, which can be very helpful in advancing your awareness as well.


In sum, as an advanced practice nurse, you will likely encounter a number of opinions and worldviews in your day-to-day work. It’s critical to learn how to balance these varying opinions and react in a way that will help you provide the best patient care possible.


If you are interested in advancing your education to become an advanced practice nurse, visit Maryville University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing program to learn more about your educational options.


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