Skip to main content

Communication Skills and Cultural Competence in Nursing

As the saying goes, the United States is a melting pot. According to 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s multiracial population has grown a whopping 276% since 2010. This transformation, combined with the growing number of people of different nationalities as U.S. citizens, means the next generation of nurses must know how to communicate effectively with various cultural groups.

Luckily, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Education online degree can equip healthcare professionals with the necessary skills to work with individuals of varied backgrounds and demographics.

How Do Nurses Gain Cultural Competencies?

Expanding cultural awareness is not easy. However, introducing cultural competencies early in a nurse’s education allows them to develop their cross-cultural communication skills and forge connections with people from differing backgrounds and those with limited English proficiency — ultimately improving patient care.

Nurse educators are increasingly instrumental in preparing new nurses to care for a diverse population, and coursework in The University of Texas at Arlington’s MSN in Nursing Education online program reflects that. Nurse educator graduates are ready to create targeted curricula and incorporate the latest learning strategies, including simulation exercises, to prepare students to provide culturally competent care.

How Can Nurses Overcome Language Barriers?

Communication is at the core of the nurse-patient relationship, but cultural differences make it difficult to deliver high-quality care consistently. Consider the following tips to overcome language barriers and improve communication:

  1. Use interpreters wisely. While it is tempting to have a family member or friend translate for a patient, the individual may leave important information out of both sides of the conversation. Instead, call in an interpreter. Most facilities will have an interpreter on-staff, either within the complex or available via phone.

    Three critical points in the patient care cycle warrant the use of an interpreter, says Nursing Management: at admission, during teaching moments and at discharge. An interpreter involved in these conversations can decrease medical errors and hospital readmissions.

  2. Practice active listening. By practicing active listening, you might overcome more minor communication challenges resulting from cultural differences. People often feel vulnerable, especially when struggling to communicate, and this method validates their feelings and helps them feel heard.

    Sit down and make eye contact when speaking with someone. This simple step offers reassurance that you will take the time to listen. As they begin answering your questions, repeat back to them what they said in your own words, which not only confirms your understanding but also builds the patient’s confidence and trust in you.

  3. Attend a cultural competence seminar. Many employers and industry associations offer continuing education in cultural competence. Although nurse educators cover these topics with recent nursing graduates, these standalone courses are excellent refreshers.

    Educational sessions may be conducted virtually or in person, sometimes in small groups or using prerecorded web-based components. A 2019 BMC Nursing study found that providing such opportunities for healthcare workers to learn about their cultural preferences or obtain a different perspective on their communication practices was “useful and thought-provoking” and resulted in better communication.

  4. Revisit medication management. According to Pharmacy Times, half of chronic disease patients do not take their medications as prescribed, and as many as 30% of prescriptions go unfilled. People with a limited understanding of the English language may struggle to comprehend changes to their medication regimen and fall into nonadherence. To further complicate matters, medications often use different names in other countries.

    To overcome these challenges and improve compliance, nurses should rethink their approach to medication management and dedicate the time necessary to ensure each person’s understanding. Ideally, nurses should use teach-back techniques and provide medication instructions in the patient’s preferred language.

The U.S. population is more diverse than ever. As a result, nurses must learn to communicate effectively with people from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds so that everyone receives the same high-quality healthcare. Nurse educators introduce these strategies to their students and serve as a source of support as new graduates build their cultural competence.

Learn more about The University of Texas at Arlington’s online MSN in Nursing Education program.

Related Articles

Request More Information

Submit this form, and an Enrollment Specialist will contact you to answer your questions.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Or call 866-489-2810

Ready to Begin?

Start your application today!

or call 866-489-2810 866-489-2810
for help with any questions you may have.
  • Choose All That Apply