Cultural Competency Definitions

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CULTURAL COMPETENCY DEFINITIONS – A paper to inform development of Cultural Competency Framework for First Nations and Aboriginal Peoples of British Columbia, Canada Cultural Definitions in health care – what does it all mean? There are many definitions and iterations of culture in health care – all with different meanings but many with overlaps. In order to develop a Cultural competency framework, it will be important for stakeholders to agree on what ‘cultural competency’ means and the differences, similarities or connections between this term and others used in different contexts.

Any agency or institution using the terms(s) needs to state their own definitions so it is clear to their own readers, users, students or staff – what they mean when they apply the terms. The mostly commonly used terms associated with cultural competency are: Cultural responsiveness

Cultural appropriateness
Cultural awareness
Cultural sensitivity
Cultural safety
Cultural competency
Often these terms have been used interchangeably for training purposes – when in fact the training content has sometimes been the same or very similar. The following outlines some definitions used within Canada and other countries for the above terms and suggests a possible model for consideration by the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport and its’ stakeholders and partners. Culture

General Definitions of Culture
It is important to define what is meant by culture. Definitions of culture are often confused by using terminology such as ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ but a basic definition of culture reveals a far broader understanding. One definition of culture is:

The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population and can be expressed in intellectual and artistic activity and in the works produced by the ‘culture’ or ‘culture group’

Culture is essentially a convenient way of describing the ways members of a group understand each other and communicate that understanding. More often than not, the nuances of meaning are generated by behavior rather than words, and much of the interaction between members is determined by shared values operating at an unconscious or ‘take for granted’ level. Many groups have their own distinctive culture: the elderly, the poor, professional groups, gangs, the army .

Webster's Third New International Unabridged Dictionary defines culture as "the total pattern of human behavior and its products embodied in thought, speech, action, and artifacts and dependent upon man's capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations through the use of tools, language, and systems of abstract thought". Culture is increasingly recognized as a crucial variable in the delivery of health care services. Diagnosis and treatment planning and implementation require special skills and sensitivities when the health care practitioner and the patient are from different cultures. In ‘Critical Cultural Perspectives and Health Care Involving Aboriginal Peoples (Browne & Varcoe, UBC) the authors examine the complexities inherent in attempting to define culture. Specifically they examine the problems that can arise when culture is defined too narrowly or from a culturalist perspective and the implications of applying narrow definitions of culture in the area of Aboriginal health. To counter these tendencies toward narrow understandings of culture, they propose a ‘critical cultural perspective’ as one way of broadening nurses' understandings about the complexities of culture and the many facets of culture that require critical consideration. The following is an abridged version of their article.

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Browne and Varcoe argue that the question for those involved in...
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