Culturally Appropriate Care in an RN to BSN Program

Nurses encounter patients from many different cultures and backgrounds. Part of providing individualized patient-centered care means identifying and understanding each patient’s belief system in addition to honoring — not interfering with — those beliefs during treatments and interactions. Students enrolled in UNM’s online RN to BSN program have the opportunity to study culturally appropriate care in more depth.

Why Cultural Competence?

Only 10% of nurses identify as a minority

The United States has seen a significant increase in the racial and ethnic diversity among its residents. In the past 50 years alone, nearly 59 million immigrants have entered the country, often bringing with them a variety of deep cultural and religious roots. As of 2013, approximately one in three U.S. citizens belonged to a minority group. At this rate, it is estimated that the rapidly-changing demographics could eliminate any racial or ethnic majorities as early as 2043.

However, only 10 percent of U.S.-based licensed nurses self-identify as part of a minority group. With the possibility of dozens of different cultures seeking medical treatment in the same geographic area, the limited diversity among nurses may act as a hindrance to individualized patient care where understanding the patient’s background plays a pivotal role in improved outcomes.

These shifts are why culturally competent care has become an important healthcare initiative and will likely continue to be going forward. The Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), defines cultural competence as “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.”

To meet this goal, another branch of the HHS has even issued national standards regarding the subject. The Office of Minority Health (OMH) issued the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care, or National CLAS, in 2000 and later updated them in 2013 to reflect demographic changes. According to the OMH, the standards “are intended to advance health equity, improve quality, and help eliminate health care disparities by establishing a blueprint for individuals as well as health and health care organizations to implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services.” Licensed nurses seeking continuing education credits can enroll in an OMH course which covers the National CLAS Standards in more detail.

Cultural Learning Curve

For nursing students though, several healthcare accrediting bodies have altered their educational and professional licensure criteria to include content regarding culturally appropriate care. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), for example, has established specific coursework and educational outcomes that all baccalaureate nursing students should master prior to graduation.

The AACN views cultural competence as the “attitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary for providing quality care to diverse populations.” To ensure students attain such knowledge, the AACN has formulated unique course content and resources for distribution to colleges and universities. The goal is for each baccalaureate nursing graduate to demonstrate competency in five areas. The AACN states that nurses must:

  1. Apply knowledge of social and cultural factors that affect nursing and healthcare across multiple contexts.
  2. Use relevant data sources and best evidence in providing culturally competent care.
  3. Promote achievement of safe and quality outcomes of care for diverse populations.
  4. Advocate for social justice, including commitment to the health of vulnerable populations and the elimination of health disparities
  5. Participate in continuous cultural competence development.

The Future

The U.S. is undergoing significant cultural changes which are impacting the ability of nurses to provide patient-centered care. Numerous studies indicate that these shifts show no signs of slowing; therefore, it is key to provide nursing students with the tools and educational background to offer culturally appropriate care to the communities in which they serve is key. Students enrolled in the online RN to BSN program at UNM receive this training as part of the program’s core values and curriculum.

Learn more about the UNM online RN to BSN program.


Cohn, D., & Caumont, A. (2016, March 31). 10 demographic trends that are shaping the U.S. and the world. Retrieved from

Cultural Competency in Baccalaureate Nursing Education. (2008, August). Retrieved from

Culture, Language and Health Literacy. (n.d.). Retrieved from

National CLAS Standards: Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Reyes, H., Hadley, L., & Davenport, D. (2013, May 23). A Comparative Analysis of Cultural Competence in Beginning and Graduating Nursing Students. Retrieved from

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