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Fruit Lady (Haiti)
How does Cultural Competency differ from
Cultural Sensitivity/Awareness?


    The idea of more effective cross-cultural capabilities is captured in many terms similar to cultural competence.  Cultural knowledge, cultural awareness, and cultural sensitivity all convey the idea of improving cross-cultural capacity, as illustrated in the following definitions: 

Cultural Knowledge: Familiarization with selected cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviors of the members of another ethnic group (Adams, 1995).

Cultural Awareness developing sensitivity and understanding of another ethnic group.  This usually involves internal changes in terms of attitudes and values.  Awareness and sensitivity also refer to the qualities of openness and flexibility that people develop in relation to others.  Cultural awareness must be supplemented with cultural knowledge(Adams, 1995).

Cultural Sensitivity Knowing that cultural differences as well as similarities exist, without assigning values, i.e., better or worse, right or wrong, to those cultural differences (National Maternal and Child Health Center on Cultural Competency, 1997).

    However, cultural competence, is defined as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations (Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989).   Operationally defined, 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 health care; thereby producing better health outcomes (Davis, 1997).  Cultural competency emphasizes the idea of effectively operating in different cultural contexts.  Knowledge, sensitivity, and awareness do not include this concept.    "This is beyond awareness or sensitivity," says Marva Benjamin of the Georgetown Technical Assistance Center for Children's Mental Health.


Definitions used here can be found in:

    Cross T., Bazron, B., Dennis, K., & Isaacs, M. (1989). Towards a Culturally Competent System of Care,  Volume I. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Child Development Center, CASSP Technical Assistance Center.

    Diane L. Adams (Ed.). (1995). Health issues for women of color: A cultural diversity perspective. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

    Texas Department of Health, National Maternal and Child Health Resource Center on Cultural Competency. (1997). Journey towards cultural competency: Lessons learned. Vienna, VA: Maternal and Children's Health Bureau Clearinghouse.


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