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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Examining cultural competence in health care: implications for social workers.

  • Author(s): Horevitz, Elizabeth
  • Lawson, Jennifer
  • Chow, Julian CC
  • et al.

This article examines and unpacks the "black box" of cultural competence in health interventions with racial and ethnic minority populations. The analysis builds on several recent reviews of evidence-based efforts to reduce health disparities, with a focus on how cultural competence is defined and operationalized. It finds that the use of multiple similar and indistinct terms related to cultural competence, as well as the lack of a mutually agreeable definition for cultural competence itself, has resulted in an imprecise concept that is often invoked but rarely defined and only marginally empirically validated as an effective health intervention. This article affirms the centrality of cultural competence as an essential values-based component of optimal social work practice, while also suggesting future directions for operationalizing, measuring, and testing cultural competence to build an evidence base on whether and how it works to reduce health disparities.

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