An increase in the quality of the psychosocial work environment may help nurses develop cross-cultural competence.

The results of a recent Finnish study showed that nurses whose workplace was characterized by high time pressure, little opportunities to control one’s own job, and lack of social support were culturally less competent. This was observed in both native and migrant registered nurses working in Finland.

Cross-cultural competence is generally understood as the ability to effectively interact with patients and colleagues from different cultural backgrounds. This ability includes a set of skills (communicative competence in cross‐cultural encounters), emotions (empathy and patience towards people of different cultural origins), attitudes (tolerance and respect toward cultural diversity), and motivations (curiosity to engage in cross-cultural encounters).

“The importance of cross-cultural competence in nurses is widely recognized because its lack has repeatedly been reported to negatively affect the quality of health care”, says the leader of the study, Research Professor Tarja Heponiemi, from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

“What’s more, low levels of cross-cultural competence can result in substantial disparities in access to care and in health outcomes between minority and majority groups. One of our previous studies also indicated that deficiencies in cross-cultural competence, especially in empathy, are likely to jeopardize nurses’ own well-being, leading to distress and sleep problems”, Heponiemi adds.

For these reasons, developing tools to help health care organizations promote cross-cultural competence among nurses is crucial. As the new study suggests, improvements in psychosocial working conditions, especially reducing excessive workload that could give nurses enough time to fulfill their duties, may be of value.

“This could be done by, for example, increasing staff number. In cases when doing so is not possible due to economic constraints, health care organizations could use float pools to reduce the workload”, says THL Researcher Karolina Wesołowska.

This study is part of the Competent Workforce for the Future (COPE) project of the Strategic Research Council at the Academy of Finland. The researchers involved in the project are from THL, Aalto University, Laurea University of Applied Sciences, and University of Eastern Finland.

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Wesołowska, K., Elovainio, M., Gluschkoff, K., Hietapakka, L., Kaihlanen, A.-M., Lehtoaro, S., & Heponiemi, T. (2019). Psychosocial work characteristics and cross-cultural competence among native and foreign-born registered nurses. Research in Nursing & Health.

Further information: (COPE project)

Tarja Heponiemi
Research Professor
Tel. +029 524 7434

Karolina Wesołowska

Previously on this subject:

Enhancing cross-cultural empathy in nurses could help to improve their well-being