Objective: The purpose of this research was to locate cultural competence within the experiential domain of the non-English-speaking patient.
Design: Seven language-specific focus groups were held with 59 hospital patients and carers of patients with limited English to better understand their experience and to identify critical factors leading to their constructions of care. Grounded theory analysis within a constructivist perspective was undertaken.
Results: While the majority of patients were positive about their hospital experience, the theme of powerlessness appeared central to many patient experiences. Language facilitation was the most common issue. Inattention to specific cultural mores and racism in some instances contributed to negative experiences. Patients primarily valued positive engagement, information and involvement, compassionate, kind and respectful treatment, and the negotiated involvement of their family.
Conclusion: Because of the specific nature of each patient-provider interaction within its particular social and political environment, culturally competent behaviour in one context may be culturally incompetent in another. We propose a model of cultural empowerment that reflects the phenomenological basis of cultural competence in that cultural competence must be consistently renegotiated with any particular patient in a particular healthcare context. Similarly, ongoing community consultations are needed for health services and organisations to retain cultural competence.