During your career as a travel nurse, you’re bound to interact with patients and colleagues from all walks of life. Because of this, you’ll likely learn pretty quickly that not all of us experience the modern healthcare system in the same way—even despite your best efforts to provide optimized, individualized care to everyone. This is why cultural competence is so important.

The idea of cultural competence evolved to address the social inequities in contemporary medicine. The CDC defines it as “the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services; thereby producing better outcomes.”

Basically, by enhancing your cultural competence, you’ll be able to better serve your patients and adapt to different roles and challenges—but it’s an ongoing effort in self-reflection and self-improvement. Keen cultural competence is also one of the best ways to make a solid first impression as a travel nurse.

If we aim for the industry to evolve and improve, it’s imperative for each of us to recognize and address the biases, ideas, and beliefs shaping our behaviors within our professional environments. In this quick guide, we’ll cover some key ways to cultivate cultural competence and exercise understanding in your career as a travel nurse. 

What Is Cultural Competence in Nursing?

Cultural competence is a society-wide goal, but it looks different across various industries. Each field has its own issues, objectives, and resources to consider when creating more equitable systems. 

Culturally competent nurses and healthcare professionals recognize that social inequities can crop up in very specific ways in healthcare settings, including:

  • Differences in patients’ ability to recognize or interpret signs and symptoms
  • What patients expect from their healthcare providers
  • How much patients expect to pay for care (and whether it’s within their means)
  • How comfortable patients are undergoing exams, procedures, vaccinations, etc.
  • Patients’ willingness or ability to adhere to their treatment plan
  • Who patients defer to or include in health-related decisions

Importantly, cultural competence in nursing is not the same as “cultural sensitivity” or “cultural awareness.” The main difference is that, while these terms describe an understanding of distinctions between different cultures, competency involves applying this understanding to adapt nursing practices and better meet the needs of diverse patients.

So, while recognizing obstacles in patients’ and families’ care experiences is a solid start, cultural competency demands more of nurses. It’s about leveraging our understanding of diverse cultures to enhance patient care, ensuring they feel understood and supported throughout their treatment journey.

How to Develop Cultural Competence as a Travel Nurse

Cultural competency in nursing has several practical goals:

  1. To lift barriers of access to care
  2. To curtail inefficiencies in care settings
  3. To enhance patient outcomes and overall well-being 

Fostering cultural competence is an intentional, sustained process within the field of healthcare. 

It takes time and continual recommitment, but by prioritizing these goals, you can make it a cornerstone of your travel nursing career.

#1 Research Your Location Ahead of Time

As a travel nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to experience a diverse range of workplace environments, locations, and communities. So, no matter where you go, you’ll encounter cultural differences in the various places you work. Consider these unique intricacies opportunities to further exemplify your capabilities as a leader in nursing.

Before you start a new position, make an effort to research the environment and the people you’ll work with. Any number of factors—from the economic climate to historical immigration trends—may affect care access and patient outcomes in the area. 

Understanding these nuances not only enhances your ability to provide culturally sensitive care but also enables you to navigate the workplace more effectively, fostering stronger connections with your colleagues and patients. As well, this research will give you insights into the trends in the area. However, it’s important to remember that while these trends offer valuable guidance, they may not fully capture the unique experiences of every individual patient you encounter.

#2 Take A Personal Inventory of Your Prejudices

Another fundamental starting point for cultivating cultural competence is investigating your own culture. 

Many travel nurses may already be aware of the internalized cultural beliefs, customs, or practices that give them a sense of identity and belonging. Nurses and healthcare providers from historically disenfranchised groups may be even more acutely aware of how these cultural differences affect and inform our everyday lives. 

To kick off your cultural self-audit, you might think about taking an informal online assessment. Alternatively, you might consider speaking with trusted friends and colleagues about how you could personally contribute to upholding cultural competency in your workplace.

By reflecting on and addressing your own biases, you not only improve your ability to provide patient-centered care but also create a more inclusive and supportive environment for your colleagues. 

#3 Focus On Building Relationships with People (Not Just Patients)

Many people from minority cultural backgrounds routinely experience barriers to care. In fact, in 2020, the American College of Physicians (ACP) published a paper detailing the various social factors that prevent patients from pursuing treatment. Some of the most prevalent include:

  • Age
  • Citizenship status
  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Incarceration status
  • Intellectual and physical disabilities
  • Native language
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Religion and cultural beliefs
  • Sexuality
  • Wealth and class

While you may not be able to resolve these deep-rooted inequalities in the healthcare system alone, every nurse can make a difference in their own right. You can work to create an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere for your patients and their families. 

To do this, really take the time to see each and every person for the individual they are, rather than seeing them as merely another patient or as the condition they deal with.

Another strategy that can help make people feel more at home in your hospital or clinic is mirroring their behavior. You can also ask them what they’re comfortable with as they’re undergoing examinations and procedures, then work with them to maintain that sense of comfort throughout their visit.

Developing meaningful connections with your patients not only improves their care experience but also enhances your job satisfaction and contributes to a more supportive work environment overall.

Build Cultural Competence as a Travel Nurse with Host Healthcare

From patients to families, doctors to nurses, support staff to surgeons—people are at the heart of every healthcare facility. If the industry is to release its biases and change for the better, advancements must occur on the individual level. This means we all must acknowledge the prejudices, ideas, and beliefs that inform our attitudes and actions in our work environment. 

One of the best things you can do to cultivate nursing cultural competence is to continually seek out educational and experiential opportunities that push you beyond your comfort zone. Finding a new, fascinating placement as a travel nurse with Host Healthcare is one exciting way to gain unique field experience and push yourself to grow, both personally and professionally.  

Apply today to discover new travel nursing job opportunities and join a community of people committed to building equity in healthcare together.



“Cultural Competence in Health and Human Services.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://npin.cdc.gov/pages/cultural-competence#3. 

“How to Improve Cultural Competence in Health Care.” School of Public Health, 15 Sept. 2022, https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/cultural-competence-in-health-care/. 

“Cultural Competence in Nursing.” NurseJournal, 29 Nov. 2022, https://nursejournal.org/resources/cultural-competence-in-nursing/. 

Crowley R; Daniel H; Cooney TG; Engel LS; “Envisioning a Better U.S. Health Care System for All: Coverage and Cost of Care.” Annals of Internal Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31958805/. 

 “Cultural Competence in Health Care: Is It Important for People with Chronic Conditions?” Health Policy Institute, 13 Feb. 2019, https://hpi.georgetown.edu/cultural/.