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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Lehr-Splawinski, Marketing Communications

What is cultural competence in healthcare?

Our cultural backgrounds impact our beliefs, values, attitudes and overall conduct. Cultural competence, also referred to us cultural sensitivity, means to practising respectful sensitivity to people of other cultures. It requires cultural awareness, knowledge and an open and non-judgemental attitude. Cultural skills can be obtained, developed and need to be cultured due to growing multiculturalism around the world.

All healthcare communication is impacted by language, behaviours, traditions, beliefs, and perspectives. Therefore, it is crucial for all health care providers & workers to gain crucial knowledge of a patient's cultural background for them to be able to practise cultural competence. It helps gain accurate medical information of the patient’s health status and history, encourages active dialogue between the healthcare providers and therefore improves clear communication with the patient and family which builds trust. The patient feels supported and gains a more positive attitude.

In caregiving & nursing, a culturally competent health care professional can more effectively relate to each individual patient’s overall care needs. The majority of care staff are culturally competent as they come from diverse cultures and backgrounds themselves. Respect, compassion, kindness and a genuine interest in a patient's cultural background helps to support the patient's overall wellbeing besides care needs care needs.

The overall population in BC is growing more culturally diverse every year and the aging population is increasing rapidly across Canada. Almost one in five Canadians were at least 65 years of age in July 2022, as per Statistics Canada. Currently, almost 20% of populations in BC are over the age 65.

The importance of cultural competence in senior home health care

In reference to professional home health care, all registered care staff should be directed and trained by their employer to fulfil the below expectations on the job:

  • Learn to understand the person’s cultural background, traditions and family dynamics to be able to better communicate with the client and their family. For example, In some traditions, a caregiver or nurse will be required to be more assertive, in others more passive.

  • Be aware and respectful of any preferences in communication such as how to address the client and each family member. That needs to include an understanding of the client’s personal space which is crucial in providing culturally competent care.

  • As to understand and respect a client’s physical contact preferences - especially when personal care is being provided to the client. What is acceptable to the client and what is not. Some clients are very particular especially when it comes to toileting, changing & more.

  • Know & understand and follow any dietary traditions as some foods can be prohibited for religious and or personal reasons.

  • Knowing, understanding & respecting the client’s values related to wellbeing, health & death. A fact which is crucial in hospice care to be able to support clients in dying with dignity.

Usually the Director of Care or the managing nurse of any professional home care and health care company provide instructions as well as specific company policies to follow in regards to rules and expected behaviours.

Some seniors are experiencing difficulties in accepting outside help in the form of home care due to various reasons. Cultural competence makes a positive impact on clients’ overall wellbeing and helps overcome a senior's resistance to home care.

The goal of quality home health care is for the client to stay independent as long as possible to be able to age in place of living while remaining comfortable & safe. Cultural competent care enriches clients quality of life as it affects them in a positive way, emotionally & cognitively. They feel more understood and nurtured.

If you or someone you know is in the process of choosing, selecting & hiring a private home care company to care for you, or a loved one, ensure that the person and its family ask direct and very specific questions about what rules are set by the home care/home health care company in regards to cultural competence in senior care.


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