Best Practices

Culture Competence

Cultural competence is the integration and transformation of knowledge about individuals and groups of people into specific standards, policies, practices, and attitudes used in appropriate cultural settings to increase the quality of services, thereby producing better health outcomes (Davis, 1997).


The word culture implies the integrated patterns of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of racial, ethnic, religious, or social groups. The word competence implies having the capacity to function in a particular way. Thus, cultural competence refers to the capacity to function within the context of culturally integrated patterns of human behavior defined by a group. Being competent in cross-cultural functioning means learning new patterns of behavior and effectively applying them in the appropriate settings and having the capacity to function effectively in other cultural contexts.


There are five essential elements that contribute to a system's ability to become more culturally competent. The system should:

  1. Value diversity
  2. Have the capacity for cultural self-assessment
  3. Be conscious of the "dynamics" inherent when cultures interact
  4. Institutionalize cultural knowledge
  5. Develop adaptations to service delivery reflecting an understanding of diversity between and within cultures


These five elements must be manifested in every level of the service delivery system and should be reflected in attitudes, structures, policies, and services.


Background Documents

Evidence-Based Programs

Recommended Strategies