Cultural competency is the accumulation of socio-emotional skills related to cultural identity and expression. Each of us can achieve cultural competency by expanding our awareness of the range of differences and unique capabilities of people who are self-organized according to religious/spiritual practice, ethnic and geographic origin, language and dialect preferences, physical and cognitive ability, and other characteristics.
Cultural competency can be developed through engagement with diverse communities and their cultural expressions (spoken language or dialect, spiritual practices, literature, films, for example). Doing so is a way to show solidarity, that is, to practice allyship with individuals and groups with different cultural identities. Expanding familiarity with different cultural groups can help us meet their needs successfully and sensitively—whether in the classroom or in a health services setting.
Cultural humility is the opposite of cultural hubris, which is when someone presupposes a superiority or assigns higher value or integrity to a specific cultural characteristic or social grouping. (See “ethnocentricism”)
Cultural humility can be enhanced by intentional consideration and respect for individuals who have cultural identities different from one’s own.
From the Merriam-Webster dictionary*: “Empathy” is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
Increasingly, academic institutions are including programming on topics like “empathy” and “compassion” and cultural sensitivity”—both in course offerings and in supplemental educational opportunities (symposia, workshops, for e.g.). Empathy goes both ways in a health sciences educational setting. Students need to be regarded and responded to with empathy and positive regard, just as their patients do. The emotional (and physical) safety and well-being of students (future healthcare providers) does have an impact on the quality of care they can provide for their patients.