Cultural Competency for Anesthesia Providers

Since anesthesia providers play such an important role in patient care and surgery, their cultural competency skills must be strong. In the context of the healthcare provider-patient/provider-family relationship, cultural competency refers to the ability to bridge cultural differences between the provider and the patient or their family to provide respectful, compassionate and effective care. Differences in culture between the provider and the patient (or the patient’s family) can become the basis for mistrust, misunderstanding and miscommunication. 

Understanding Cultural Competency

Without cultural competency, risks increase for patient or family dissatisfaction, anger, frustration and impatience toward the medical provider. For anesthesiologists and CRNAs, cultural competency involves three components:


Developing self-awareness involves an appreciation of those culturally based factors that trigger discomfort, fear, anxiety or anger. ​​Highly self-aware people can objectively interpret their actions, feelings and thoughts without spiraling into emotion-driven interpretations of circumstances.

Development and Refinement of Cross-Cultural Communication

Cross-cultural communication is a skill that must be learned and practiced. It allows anesthesia providers the ability to be able to elicit and understand the patient’s or family’s understanding of the meaning and significance of the patient’s illness. Anesthesia providers skilled in cross-cultural communication can also appropriately engage with culturally insensitive colleagues. Keep in mind that patients and their loved ones bring their beliefs about the causes, meanings and significance of the patient’s illness, as well as expectations about the course of treatment. These beliefs, described collectively as the explanatory model, are shaped to varying degrees by their cultural backgrounds and experiences. Knowing and understanding the explanatory model of the patient or their family enables more effective communication on a day-to-day basis. It can facilitate discussion and negotiation around the goals of care.

Effectively Using Interpreters

There is abundant evidence pointing to the potential for error, editing filtering and distortion when family or friends are relied upon to provide interpretation services. Thus, although there are situations in which it is unavoidable, the use of untrained family members or friends to provide language interpretation is far from ideal and is to be discouraged. Instead, a trained individual, either in person or via a telephone or online service, should be solicited to provide the medical interpretative services. Additionally, if the patient cannot read their informed consent form, the person obtaining the consent must be a trained medical interpreter. 

Navigating Non-English Informed Consent Forms

As our population becomes increasingly diversified in spoken languages, the proper completion of non-English informed consent forms must be prioritized. The purpose of these forms is to ensure the patient clearly understands the risks, benefits, alternatives, risks of alternatives, and in some form, the likelihood of success. To best implement non-English informed consent measures, CCI Anesthesia’s compliance officer recommends:

  • Subscribing to a language line service and training all staff on how to use it.
  • Assessing the competency of local staff to interpret and translate forms.
  • Acquiring properly constructed forms in languages that can be stored electronically and printed on demand.
  • Training staff on a few basic phrases.
  • Providing training exercises.

Prioritizing Cultural Competency in Your Anesthesia Department

Cultural competency and accommodating patients with closely held cultural beliefs are incredibly important. Putting patients at ease, regardless of their cultural background, is one of the most important jobs of an anesthesia provider. Through self-awareness, honing cross-cultural communication skills and effectively using interpreters, anesthesia providers can make a huge difference in a patient’s confidence level in their care. 

Learn more about our compliance efforts and how we promote cultural competency among our anesthesia providers. Call us today at 800-494-3948.