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Cultural Competency; what is it and why should I care?

Are you or a loved one any of the following:

-Female                      -Black                -Latino

-Jewish                      -Christian         -Muslim

-Have immigrated to the US (no matter how many generations ago)

-LGBTQ                     -Native American

-Young                       -Old                     -Have a genetic condition

YES! It would be hard to at not have at least one of these things be true; so therefore cultural competency affects YOU and your health. Cultural competence in healthcare refers to the ability for healthcare systems to demonstrate cultural competence toward patients with diverse values, beliefs, and behaviors.

There are things Care Answered does, as your advocate, to assist in the selection of appropriate clinicians.  We can help them see you as a whole person for your best care.


Let me share with you quick personal stories regarding cultural competency.


When I was in my 20s I selected a primary care doctor close to my work and made an appointment for a check-up.  I was appropriately asked if there was anything wrong and I answered “No, not particularly; I was just wanted a check up to make sure everything was going well and get a baseline”.  The doctor stated “Why are you here if you feel fine? You’re young; there is likely nothing wrong with you”. The doctor had no family health history at that point and knew nothing of my health. Now, I went through with the appointment and I was fine.  However, the assumption that if you’re young than you are fine is sadly not accurate. (Thankfully I was fine) But, perhaps that doctor did not perform all appropriate testing because of the assumption that I was fine. Or maybe some other young person did not go to him for yearly checkups because they thought it was a waste of time based on this doctor’s response to check-ups for younger adults. And we know what you don’t know can hurt you.­­­­­



I am an African American woman and I go to the dentist about every 6 months. For the past 10 years different dentists have seen shadowing in x-rays on the roots of some of my teeth.  After asking me if I had any trauma to that part of face and my response was no; most of them suggested I go to an Endodontist and get a root canal because that shadowing means the nerves of the teeth are affected. I have never had a root canal, but I know enough that I didn’t want to sign up for one unless I really needed it.  In these ten years I have never had pain in these “shadowed teeth” so I did nothing. So ten years later I see an African American female dentist for my six month cleaning and check-up.  They did the x-rays again and the same shadowing was there. After asking me the same question regarding trauma to my face and listening to my history she said oh it’s very common in African American women as the bone density of the teeth differs in spots and the x-ray picks it up as these shadows.  We will continue to watch it but no, you don’t need a root canal. Now, if I had a different mindset I could have caused myself needless pain and a lot of money getting several root canals because other dentists didn’t think outside the box and perhaps saw me as another mouth rather than an African American woman with a mouth.

So those are just two of my personal stories.  And there are so many more.  So many older adults get the “you’re getting older” diagnosis. I say this in all my seminars: Getting older in not a diagnosis!  If it were, I would be finest diagnostician in the world (and I don’t even hold a medical degree).  Every one of us is getting older.

Cultural incompetency can lead to misdiagnosis, prolonged illness and even death.  So here are some tips:

-Talk to your clinician and/or the office staff with whom you make           the appointment and ask questions like:

-I am (blank) does s/he have many (blank) patients?

-Could these symptoms indicate any other diagnosis?

-If I had the same symptoms but was not of this (gender, culture, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) would there be other suggestions you might have?

-Do you feel comfortable treating a (blank) person?

-My culture/religion/faith/ does or does not allow (blank) do you have another potential solution for this?

If you are not comfortable with the answers seek another doctor.  If you are not comfortable asking the questions call on an advocate-your health is at stake.

Please take time to share your stories.  We can all learn from each other.

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