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Health Disparities & Health Equity

Cultural Competence

Cultural competence (or competency) is one the main tools for closing the gap in health care disparities. People with different cultural backgrounds may have diverse perspectives on health and wellness. Cultural competence emphasizes the idea of effectively operating in different cultural contexts, and altering practices to reach different cultural groups (CDC).Health care services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients can help bring about positive health outcomes.

Culture and language may influence:

  • Belief systems about health, healing, and wellness
  • Perceptions of illness, disease, and their causes 
  • Behaviors of patients/consumers who are seeking health care
  • Attitudes toward health care providers
  • Provider's delivery of healthcare services (provider may view the world through their own limited set of values, which can compromise access for patients from other cultures)

Source: Centers for Disease Control. (n.d.). Cultural Competence In Health and Human Services | NPIN. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from


From the CDC National Prevention Information Network:

What is Cultural Competence? Cultural and linguistic competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals that enables effective work in cross-cultural situations. 'Culture' refers to integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. 'Competence' implies having the capacity to function effectively as an individual and an organization within the context of the cultural beliefs, behaviors, and needs presented by consumers and their communities.

Source: Centers for Disease Control. (n.d.). Cultural Competence In Health and Human Services | NPIN. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from


From the U.S. Office of Minority Health:

Cultural competency is a developmental process in which one achieves increasing levels of awareness, knowledge, and skills along a continuum, improving one’s capacity to work and communicate effectively in cross-cultural situations. Strategies for practicing cultural competency include:

  • Learning about your own and others’ cultural identities
  • Combating bias and stereotypes
  • Respecting others’ beliefs, values, and communication preferences
  • Adapting your services to each patient’s unique needs
  • Gaining new cultural experiences

Cultural humility is a reflective process of understanding one’s biases and privileges, managing power imbalances, and maintaining a stance that is open to others in relation to aspects of their cultural identity that are most important to them. Strategies for practicing cultural humility include:

  • Practicing self-reflection, including awareness of your beliefs, values, and implicit biases
  • Recognizing what you don’t know and being open to learning as much as you can
  • Being open to other people’s identities and empathizing with their life experiences 
  • Acknowledging that the patient is their own best authority, not you
  • Learning and growing from people whose beliefs, values, and worldviews differ from yours

Source: Think Cultural Health: CLAS, cultural competency, and cultural humility, Dept. of Health & Human Services, Office of Minority Health


List of Definitions of Cultural Competence compiled by the National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University.