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Developing Cultural Competency

Cultural Knowledge, Awareness, Sensitivity, Competence

IV.  Latino/Hispanic Cultures

How do Latinos deal with illness?

Latinos may see illness as an imbalance. The imbalance may be between internal and external sources (e.g., natural vs. supernatural, the soul is separate from the body).

  • There are folks-defined diseases such as "empacho" (stomach ailment) and standard western medically defined diseases such as measles, asthma, and TB.
  • Many seek medical care from "curanderos" (folk healers) and others and may be using herbal remedies of special foods.
  • Decisions to seek healthcare are usually determined by the mother or head of household.
  • They prefer a polite and friendly encounter before a therapeutic relation.

Understanding the norms about eye contact, body language and modesty.

  • Eye contact with a health care professional may be avoided as a sign of respect.
  • For some, eye contact may be related to evil spirits, an illness may be attributed to receiving "mal ojo" or "evil eye."
  • When the person nods his or her head, it does not necessarily signify agreement, but rather that he or she is listening to you.

What is unique?

  • Country of origin, education, and income level all make a difference about how a person perceives illness and makes care decisions.

Understanding relationships

  • Latinos value relationships. They prefer polite and friendly encounter before a therapeutic relation.
  • Take time to develop relationships. Shake hands and greet the person by name, or ask what they prefer to be called. An older Hispanic patient may prefer to be called Mr. (Señor) or Mrs. (Señora)

Additional resource

  • Communicating with Your Latino Patient  (from Culture Clues™, University of Washington Medical Center, Patient and Family Education Services - .pdf document, opens in a new browser window)

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