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The Expert Corner: Defining Culture and Cultural Competency

Marta Ketter, MS CCC-SLP, Supervisor of Speech-Language Department

Defining Culture
According to Edgar Schein (2010), a culture is “shared beliefs, values, and assumptions of a group of people who learn from one another and teach to others that their behaviors, attitudes, and
perspectives are the correct ways to think, act, and feel.”

Therefore, by that definition, we can assume that anyone would have difficulty interpreting and predicting the behavior of people with a different cultural background. For example, I remember the first Super Bowl party I attended. Suffice it to say, I did not understand American football or why that game mattered so much to so many people; to me, soccer made sense and was the sport worth getting worked up over! Predicting what to wear, what food to bring, and when to pay attention to the game could be challenging if you are unfamiliar with the culture.

Cultural Competency
Our ability to be sensitive to cultural differences and make the appropriate changes to our behavior is a worthwhile skill to practice. These skills will prove valuable in any setting, but particularly in the healthcare system. Ongoing self-assessment and willingness to be open to a different worldview are part of this process. Other things you can do to practice and develop cultural competence include:

• Accepting the differences of others
• Staying flexible
• Avoiding judgment
• Appreciating differences
• Expressing curiosity
• Knowing your geography
• Being aware of your beliefs, traditions, and values
• Being willing to learn those of others