Emerge and Spread Your Wings

The Why Behind Cultural Competence

Sometimes in supervision I have found cultural competence a bit like politics – often a loaded topic, not easily raised without generating strong feelings. Discussing bi-culturalism and cultural competence as it relates to professional development (for instance when exploring goals for occupational therapy e-portfolios) can find me and my supervisees on the defensive. Of course we consider our client’s culture when we meet with them. We are respectful of customs such as taking off our shoes at the door, greetings and important beliefs. We consider our clients with a holistic view to their culture and traditions. So why might we feel a niggle of defensiveness when asked to demonstrate continuing competence in this area? Does it need to be this loaded?

In the book “Cultural Safety in Aotearoa New Zealand” 2015, edited by Dianne Wepa, I found reference to a paper presented by M. Durie about the issue of cultural competence and medical practice in New Zealand. Durie explains the difference between cultural safety and cultural competence. “Cultural competence focuses on the capacity of the health worker to improve health status by integrating culture into the clinical context. ..Recognition of culture is not by itself sufficient rationale … instead the point of the exercise is to maximise gains from a health intervention when the parties are from different cultures.”

That statement lead me to wonder if exploring our cultural competency in our practice needs to be so complex. As health and social service practitioners isn’t it already an integral part of our professional growth to continually improve our practice and knowledge? Do we get defensive when asked about our knowledge in a field of practice we are not experienced in, or are we able to recognise and acknowledge we are still learning? Can we take that approach with cultural competence, that of the willing, open learner?

When we turn our attention to how we can demonstrate cultural competence and how we can grow our skills, a logical point to start for me is to consider how I learn best. Are you aware of your own preferred learning style? Are you a visual, auditory, kinesthetic learner or a mix, social or solitary? Seems like a topic for a future blog.

Some ideas for professional development activities include: reading on the topic of bi-culturalism, or New Zealand history (eg Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand), reflecting on a client case using a reflective model, researching cultural models (Te Whare Tapa Wha, or The Kawa model – Occupational Therapy), IRL (in real life) experiences such as a Treaty of Waitangi course or marae visit, a Le Va course (great resources on Pacific Island culture), joint visiting alongside a colleague with more cultural experience and reflecting afterwards. Creating a survey (mindful of cultural barriers to responding).

My instinct is that if we approach our cultural competency as another area for ongoing learning and another tool to improve the health outcome for our clients it may become less loaded.