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The Importance of Being Global: Cultural Competence in the Public Sector

A study on trends in cultural competence focusing on healthcare policy, practice and education cites cultural competence as a strategy to improve quality of care and eliminate racial/ethnic disparities. The aim is to “develop a workforce capable of delivering high-quality care and services to everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or language proficiency,” state contributors to the study. Social and cultural backgrounds are what influence consumer and patient perspectives. The goal is to have a workforce that understands the relationship between cultural beliefs and behavior in attempt to improve quality of care to diverse populations. In recent years, agencies such as NIH and AHRQ have funded research and education in cultural competence. Cultural competence in the workplace is seen as a method of increasing access to quality of care. Federal, state and local governments are responsible for delivery of care and services for populations in need. Cultural competence can increase access and provide better services.

A plethora of us have studied abroad and or gained international work experience in the span of our college/professional careers. Traveling in general expands your thinking, makes you more adaptable and broadens your world-view. The U.S. federal government spans across hundreds of agencies, most of which run programs and manage staff overseas. Agencies such as NSA, CIA, Department of State, CDC and FBI have language programs and countless job opportunities overseas. Language skills and international work experience can be the highlight of your resume when it comes to kick-starting a federal career.

I studied abroad on a National Security Education Program (NSEP) scholarship during undergrad with the intention of using my cultural competence and language skills to benefit the public sector. The job I ended up landing did not require me to directly use my language skills. I started to question how my experience abroad would allow me to make a unique contribution. Over time I learned multiple ways you can use your cultural competence and language skills to benefit your department. Personally, I use my cultural competence to improve my department’s database by addressing gaps in data or patient/contact information within the South-Asian community. I am also able to assist in maintaining timely and accurate communication overseas. I use my geographical knowledge to accurately disseminate information.

Overall, my ability to relate to members of South-Asian decent allows me to better analyze data in order to improve health outcomes. Whether it is conducting program evaluations, or designing educational interventions, knowledge of a specific culture and language gives you a more thorough understanding of specific problem areas. If needed, I can also use my language skills to communicate with members of the South-Asian community. However, even without using my language skills, my cultural competence serves an important role. Your experiences traveling allow you to appropriately empathize with certain populations, which can make you a better employee. Traveling and having global experiences test your ability to adapt quickly to unknown situations, which will prepare you to undertake difficult and new challenges within your federal government work.

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