Understanding Culture and Diversity

A medical team

The United States can be considered a melting pot of different cultures, each one unique in its own respect. According to Campos and Kim (2017), culture is defined as a dynamic system with loosely organized but often casually connected elements. Culture can set apart societal groups due to differences in economics, politics, religion and language.


In the United States, about 42% of the general population identifies as African American, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian and Alaskan Native (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). Because across different cultures the definition of health, illness and disability vary, the determinants of healthcare preferences and practices also change (Creanza, Kolodny & Feldman, 2017). In the biomedical aspect, each medical encounter provides the opportunity for the interface of several cultures: the culture of the patient, the culture of the specialist and the culture of medicine. This interchange often influences adherence to medical regiments, patient satisfaction and health outcomes. In many instances, this interface can also demonstrate several key cultural issues—including language, tradition and differing cultural thresholds in seeking medical health care.

As immigrants to the US, my parents depended on pear picking orchards for jobs. Unfortunately, as my parents aged so did their medical needs. Uninsured, they were unable to attain professional care. Because of this, my family and I relied on home care and prayer as a method of primary treatment. Unwantedly, the pre-established, discordant perceptions of the medical care system influenced my health behaviors and decisions. I found myself not trusting my medical provider because of his or her lack of cultural competence. The providers communicated differently—displaying, for example, less positive effect and empathy, more dominance and fewer emotion—than doctors I had visited in Mexico. Often, my perception of health depended only on self and family efforts. My culturally driven decisions caused me to suffer from long-term dental and reproductive health issues. Which in retrospect, these issues could have been avoided if my family had been more proactive in prioritizing health visits.

Often, discordant patient-provider perceptions are associated with poor adherence to treatment advice, low retention in healthcare, mismatching of services to needs and unnecessary treatment. Sastry, Zoller, Walker and Sunderland (2017) assert that many providers often overlook illnesses among patients who are racially and culturally different. Thus, researchers have reported that providers may vary their interaction in conducts that make it difficult for patients who do not affiliate with White-cultural identity to convey their views and concerns (Sastry et al., 2017).

According to the CDC (n.d.), a tactic to increase cultural awareness is through implementing interventions in the workplace that focus on reducing racial and ethnic health disparities. Through interventions, public health practitioners will learn how to negotiate treatment options, be sensitive to cultural differences and better adapt to family and patient healthcare decisions. Being able to communicate with a diversity of culturally different people is crucial to provide high-quality care. Therefore, preparing individuals through interventions can enable persons to accept their own cultural biases, accept other cultural outlooks and learn how to be a culturally-aware public health specialist and provider. Making an effort to reduce cultural factors will have a positive impact on public and individual health.

The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at GCU is committed to providing both students and faculty with learning and growth opportunities. To learn more about our healthcare programs, visit our website or contact us using the Request More Information button on this page.


  • Campos, B., & Kim, H. S. (2017). Incorporating the cultural diversity of family and close relationships into the study of health. American Psychologist, 72(6), 543-554. doi:10.1037/amp0000122
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Diversity and inclusion management. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/minorityhealth/diversityandinclusion/index.html
  • Creanza, N., Kolodny, O., Feldman, M.W. (2017). How culture evolves and why it matters. National Academy of Science, 114(30), 7782-7789.doi: 10.1073/pnas.1620732114
  • Sastry, S., Zoller, H. M., Walker, T., & Sunderland, S. (2017). From patient navigation to cancer justice: Toward a culture-centered, community-owned intervention addressing disparities in cancer prevention. Frontiers in Communication, 2. doi:10.3389/fcomm.2017.00019/full; 10.3389/fcomm.2017.00019

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.