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A critique of cultural education in nursing


Mary Duffy, College of Nursing, University of Utah, 10 S. 2000 E. Front Street, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA. E-mail:


A critique of cultural education in nursing

Aim(s) of the paper. This paper critiques cultural education in nursing. Current approaches to cultural education, embedded in traditional anthropology, are obsolete and fail to acknowledge the global environment that impacts even the most remote and isolated cultures. The argument is made that new, tranformative approaches to cultural education are needed.

Background. Cultural awareness of the other is the foundation of existing strategies to teach cultural education. Students are encouraged to learn about each culture, often described as a monolith, by learning the unique characteristics of a group with a common race, ethnicity, or other distinguishing feature. Despite the increased emphasis on cultural education in nursing worldwide, culturally based problems persist. Nurse and health care researchers continue to report disparities in health, an unequal distribution of health care, and the lack of knowledge and sensitivity when caring for clients from another culture.

Discussion. Globalization contributes to differences within cultures that may equal or exceed differences between cultures. Evidence is presented that current nursing education emphasizes cultural distinctions that do not persist in the postmodern world. Problems adherent to the continued use of cultural monoliths as the foundation of cultural education are discussed and expanded perspectives on culture and cultural education are presented.

Conclusion. The principles of transformative education are offered as an alternative to the current approaches to cultural education. Students are encouraged to be vulnerable to personal change when interacting with people from other cultures because transformative education is as much about personal growth as it is about enhanced care of others. This modernized approach to cultural education transcends the standard adaptation of care from the dominant culture of the health care delivery system to the culture of the client/patient.