Andrew Wettengel / Thursday, March 24, 2022 / Categories: Work World


As a traveling nurse, you care for a wide variety of patients. Besides the myriad of medical conditions and treatment options you should be familiar with, there is another really important skill all nurses should have: dealing with patients from other cultures. Our world is full of diverse individuals and cultures who deserve equal medical treatment.

Traveling nurses should be aware of how to be culturally sensitive in healthcare when treating these individuals, as well as what they can do to ensure patients of other cultures are comfortable and cared for just like everyone else.

As traveling nurses deliver care to more and more patients from different cultural backgrounds—whether in nursing homes, hospitals, patient houses, or schools—they must learn to be culturally competent. Nurses should have a clear understanding of differences in others, including:

  • Demographics
  • Cultural norms
  • Beliefs and practices
  • Desires for medical care and treatment

These are all elements traveling nurses must consider as they care for different patients. Because nurses spend a large amount of time with their patients, it’s critical to become culturally competent to help improve the accuracy of medical research and support positive patient outcomes.

What Is Cultural Competence?

To avoid accidentally offending a patient or their family, it’s best to develop an awareness of different cultural practices, traits, and unique health challenges that specific ethnic and religious groups face. This practice, known as cultural competence, is a vital skill in healthcare because it helps eliminate ethnic, racial, and religious disparities seen in the medical field.

When caring for patients from different cultures, travel nurses of all specialties may need to modify their care strategies to align with cultural differences. Traveling nurses must develop awareness surrounding certain care tactics that can vary dramatically between certain religions, cultures, and sub-cultures, including the following:

  • Eye contact
  • Touch and personal space
  • Decision-making related to care and treatment options
  • Unique health beliefs and practices
  • Compliments and other personal remarks made to patients
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Language barriers

By being aware of each cultures’ unique qualities related to medical care, traveling nurses can demonstrate they are knowledgeable, understanding, and accepting toward cultural differences of their patients.

What Barriers Are Created by Cultural Differences?

Certain barriers can make dealing with patients from other cultures difficult. Many of these barriers are why racial disparities occur in the medical field because healthcare providers may lack the knowledge needed to provide adequate care. To be more culturally sensitive and perform their job effectively, traveling nurses should be aware of these barriers, which we detail below.

Cultural Traditions

Traveling nurses unfamiliar with certain cultural traditions may have difficulty connecting with patients and their families when providing medical care. These cultures tend to have different ways to approach healthcare, including certain traditions contrary to Western medical norms.

You may be wondering what sort of situations you could run into as a traveling nurse that will require you to adjust your care and treatment. As an example, a Native American patient may not want to be placed on life support or resuscitated if their heart stops beating. Similarly, a Chinese patient may prefer to use herbal remedies or acupuncture rather than taking prescribed medication for a medical condition.

In both of these examples, traveling nurses and other healthcare staff would have to adjust treatment options based on patients' cultural traditions and the treatment methods they would prefer. Without culturally competent care in nursing, these patients may not feel recognized or safe and will be less accepting of treatment.

Cultural Assumptions

Unfortunately, many people develop assumptions about different cultures, including healthcare providers. These assumptions are usually due to a lack of accurate information and fundamental education about that particular culture.

If traveling nurses make assumptions about patients rather than pursuing the necessary knowledge to understand that culture, it can create challenges for both the nurses and patients.


With over 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, traveling nurses are bound to be put in situations where they don’t speak the same language as their patients. This makes providing proper medical care, as well as making the patient feel comfortable, a lot more challenging. Communication about treatment options and other important medical information may be misinterpreted, and traveling nurses may not understand whether a patient is consenting to medical care or not.

Health Literacy

Different cultures have varying levels of understanding related to healthcare practices or medical conditions. Some patients may not have the health literacy to understand certain conditions or how to maintain their health on a daily basis.

When this occurs, traveling nurses need to be able to bring their patients up to speed with diagnosis and treatment options while remaining cognizant and sensitive toward specific cultural needs.

How to Overcome Barriers and Become More Culturally Sensitive

Traveling nurses must learn to put aside their personal convictions and behaviors to overcome the aforementioned barriers and learn how to be more culturally sensitive in healthcare. With so much diversity worldwide, especially in the United States, cultural competence is a must.

Here are some ways traveling nurses can become more culturally sensitive as they provide medical care to certain ethnic and religious groups.

1.     Be Aware

Rural healthcare locations may not know how important cultural sensitivity is when performing medical care. As you travel to different places and work in certain nursing assignments, it’s best to be aware of cultural competency and how you can implement these practices into your day-to-day job.

It’s also important to be aware of your own beliefs and biases that may lead you to make assumptions about certain patients. Self-awareness is the first step toward identifying racism, oppression, discrimination, and stereotyping in the medical world.

Awareness of cultural differences in the medical world is also a great step in encouraging your co-workers to do the same. When sharing cultural competence practices in nursing, also approach the subject with positivity and openness rather than with a critical viewpoint.

2.     Learn About Other Cultures

Proper care for all patients requires that traveling nurses learn everything they can about their patients, including what medications they take, their medical history, and their current symptoms. It’s also important to consider who the patient is as a whole by learning about their day-to-day life, family, and culture.

Experienced travel nurses that have been to many different locations have probably encountered quite a few different cultures and ethnic groups during their healthcare career. It’s important to make an effort to learn about the cultures you encounter in your career and the community you are working with. Always question any assumptions about certain cultures and seek out information to learn whether they are right or wrong.

3.     Build Trust

Regardless of a patient’s racial or ethnic background, traveling nurses must build trust with each patient they care for. When patients trust their healthcare providers, they are more accepting and open to recommended treatment.

Building trust with culturally diverse patients can be difficult because of language barriers and other cultural differences. In situations where you don’t know their language, always ask for a translator that can accurately relay information to them. Always use kind body language and direct eye contact with the patient and their family as if there is no language barrier.

4.     Learn to Communicate

As mentioned above, language barriers can be crossed by using a translator. You may even be able to speak the language yourself. Other tools you can use to communicate effectively with your patients are gestures, pictures, and written summaries that you can go over with the patient.

While language barriers can be incredibly frustrating for both you and the patient, remember to be as understanding as possible, especially since your patient is the one with the disadvantage.

5.     Provide Medical Education

Patients must be fully educated on their diagnosis and their treatment options. If medical procedures are required, a patient must give their full consent before the procedure can be done. Because of this, nurses must explain in detail why they need the procedure and what to expect.

Unfortunately, language barriers can make this a lot more complicated. A patient may not understand certain medical terminology or other information you give them. As mentioned above, a translator is a great resource to ensure all information is relayed correctly and the patient has enough clarity on what is going on to consent to any treatment or procedure.

In addition, some patients require further education on managing their medical condition at home. Some cultures may adhere to certain traditions that traveling nurses must understand to recommend the best treatment options. Because of this, patients must be fully educated on the medical topic to make the right decision for themselves based on the information given to them.

6.     Be an Active Listener

During a conversation, many people tend to not listen to what the other person is saying because they’re already planning what they’ll say next. This type of interaction is not ideal between healthcare staff and patients.

As a nurse, you should actively listen to what your patient is saying. This makes the patient feel heard, which is especially important for those in vulnerable medical situations.

After you ask questions, listen to your patient and ask for clarity if needed. If there’s a language barrier, remain calm and allow the patient to take as much time as they need to communicate what they have to say to you.

7.     Avoid Assumptions

We all have our own biases, and sometimes this can lead us to make assumptions about others that may not even be true. Traveling nurses should take special care not to make assumptions about their patients, especially those from different ethnic or religious backgrounds. If you aren’t familiar with their culture, it’s best to ask about any cultural differences to ensure that all patients feel safe and heard.

Cultural competency is a vital skill that all traveling nurses must learn to be as successful as possible in their job. To learn more information, or to become a traveling nurse, contact OneStaff Medical today at 877-783-1483.


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