Cultural Competency

Why is cultural competency is important to school nurses?

School nurses have a pivotal role in navigating a child’s health and it is essential that we are sensitive to the cultural needs of each individual child.  With the evolving community we are re-defining daily, school nurses must be able to identify cultural needs in order to address health needs.


The Office of Minority Health (OMH) (2013) defines culture as “integrated patterns of human behavior that include the language, thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups.” When thinking about cultural competence, one should think about a “set of behaviors, attitudes, and skills that enable nurses to work effectively in cross-cultural situations” (OMH, 2013).   Without close attention, one may ignore the relevance culture plays in our practice.

Culture is more than just a different race or ethnicity. It may also include:

  • Where a person was raised (geographically even in the United States, as well as socio-economic level)

  • Occupation (nursing, education, etc.)

  • Life Experiences and values

  • Religion

  • Sexual Orientation

  • Language and/or Dialect

  • Social order

  • Dietary Practices

Culture affects health in every individual and needs consideration when communicating with school aged children and their families. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA, n.d.), "Effective health communication is as important to health care as clinical skill. To improve health and build healthy communities, heath care providers need to recognize and address the unique culture, language and health literacy of diverse consumers and communities.”

Cultural Competency Models/Theories

There are different theories and models that explain cultural competency.   Some of the well known nursing models/theories include:

  • Purnell Model for Cultural Competence by Larry Purnell 

  • The Theory of Transcultural Nursing by Madeleine Leininger

  • Culturally Competent Model of Care by Josepha Campinha-Bacote

Find further information on various cultural theories on the Transcultural Nursing Society website.

Personal Awareness

In order to gain awareness of our community, we must assess our own current understanding of cultural competency. The National Center for Cultural Competence at Georgetown University has a variety of personal assessments.  Learn more about your personal or your organizations cultural understanding


Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). (n.d). Culture, Language, and Health Literacy [webpage].

Office of Minority Health (OMH). (2013). What is Cultural Competency? [webpage].

Page published September 2013.