Becoming Culturally Competent

Cultural competence is a developmental process that requires a long-term commitment. It is not a specific end product that occurs after a two-hour workshop, but it is an active process of learning and practicing over time. Becoming culturally competent is easier to talk about than to accomplish. Individuals working with different ethnic and cultural groups can become more culturally competent by advancing through three main stages: developing awareness, acquiring knowledge, and developing and maintaining cross-cultural skills.

Developing Awareness. Developing cultural awareness includes recognizing the value of population diversity. It also means an honest assessment of one's biases and stereotypes.

Acquiring Knowledge. One can never learn everything about another culture. However, acquiring knowledge about other groups is the foundation of cultural competence. In addition to understanding other cultures, it is essential to understand how different cultural groups view one's own culture. Knowledge of another culture includes assessments of facts not only about relevant norms, values, worldviews, and the practicality of everyday life, but also about how one's culture and the services one provides are viewed.

Developing and Maintaining Cross-Cultural Skills. Even though the United States is a pluralistic society, most health professionals have been trained in a monocultural tradition. In addition, many continue to practice as if ethnic and cultural differences are insignificant. Cross-cultural skills are developed through formal coursework, informal interaction and networking, and experience.

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