A provider’s level of cultural competency is a critical component in determining the level of service outcomes for persons seeking care.  The process of increasing a service provider’s cultural competency involves awareness of institutional and personal biases, knowledge of the dimensions of culture, and development of skills based on the increased awareness and obtained knowledge.

Let’s look briefly at each of these three areas.

  1. Cultural Awareness: This includes awareness of both internal and external cultural issues. For example, external cultural awareness could be an understanding of how past, and/or current, governmental laws and policy promote inequality, discrimination, and human pain (in areas such as race, class, sex, age, sexual orientation, and religious/spiritual orientation), or how institutionalized discrimination has perpetuated unequal access to social, economic, educational, and health care systems. Internal cultural awareness focuses on one’s own cultural influences and related biases. Provider self-awareness is a critical component of culturally competent care, as a lack of awareness of one’s own biases increases the level of stereotyping within clinical decision-making processes, and can significantly reduce opportunities for individuals seeking services to meet their needs.
  2. Cultural Knowledge: The second step in increasing provider cultural competency is development of a knowledge base that complements the ongoing process of self-awareness. An example of cultural knowledge could be an understanding of the differences between various ethnic groups regarding conventions of courtesy, conflict resolution styles, or cultural differences related to individual vs. group decision-making processes.
  3. Cultural Competency-Based Skills: The final stage in increasing culturally competent provider care involves developing skill sets that are based on the first two stages of competency, that being the provider’s cultural awareness and knowledge. For example, let’s say a provider is self-aware of the high value they place on using their cognitive and “problem-solving” skills to work with persons seeking services. In addition, let’s say the provider has also sought knowledge about cultures that tend to seek solutions to perceived problems through means primarily focused on spiritual rather than cognitive processes. Finally, let’s assume the provider has expanded their skills (based on their self-awareness and knowledge), which now include interactive approaches that both respect and facilitate the spiritual aspects of the person’s change process.

Culturally Competent Service Provision:

  • Provider has a personal belief that cultural competency is a fundamental component in delivering quality care
  • Provider is committed to continuous internal self-assessment and evaluation of one’s biases and stereotypes, and expanding awareness of how governmental and institutional policies and actions have impacted non-dominate cultural groups
  • Provider consistently pursues knowledge about multi-dimensions of culture
  • Provider focused on development and practice of skill sets that evolve from one’s cultural awareness and knowledge.