Impact of Culture on Patient Education: Introduction

Culture refers to characteristic patterns of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors shared by members of a society or population. Members of a cultural group share characteristics that distinguish them from other groups. Cultural differences will affect the receptivity of a patient to patient education and willingness to accept information and incorporate it into his or her lifestyles. It is important to remember that every patient education interaction has a cultural dimension.

Culture is a way of living, thinking, and behaving. Culture is learned within the family and guides the ways we solve problems and live our daily lives. Ethnicity is closely related to culture, although ethnicity usually refers to a particular cultural group or race that interacts and has common interests. Often there is as much diversity within ethnic groups as between them. For example, Hispanics are often classified as an ethnic group; however, there are enormous differences between Spaniards, Cubans, and Mexicans.

Culture includes many elements, including language, customs, beliefs, traditions, and ways of communicating. Another way of defining culture is to describe is “as the way things are done around here.” When you think back to various nursing settings you have worked in throughout your career, you can probably identify the “culture” of each work group you have been part of as having characteristics that distinguish it from other work groups.

The American Academy of Nursing’s Expert Panel on Culturally Competent Care stresses the importance of cross-cultural information to nursing and emphasizes that it must be considered an essential component of patient care. At the beginning of this new millennium, one in every three Americans will represent an ethnically diverse culture. As a result of these sweeping demographic changes, significant attention is being focused on meeting the needs of all Americans. Greater awareness of diversity, attention to the needs of special populations, and training to meet their needs is now a JCAHO mandate. Cultural competence refers to a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enables nurses and other health care professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations. As you acquire increasing cultural competence, you become more effective in helping patients of many cultures.

How culture influences health beliefs