Why use the term “cultural humility?”

Beth Averbeck, MD; Associate Medical Director for Primary Care, HealthPartners

Why does HealthPartners use the term cultural “humility” instead of “competence”?

We’ve switched over time to the term “cultural humility.” I think it depends on how you view the definition. So it’s more about creating the attitude, creating the interest and curiosity. When we talk about cross-cultural care, it’s the culture that we come from and the cultures our patients come from, and a true partnership. So I think that’s how we’re framing it, and that’s why we’ve moved to the term humility, whereas competence seems like it might be an endpoint, and humility is more of an attitude.

How can organizations start developing cultural humility?

I think for an organization to start would be to reach out to your community, and again, what’s most important to the community when it comes to health care? I mean, patients spend 99.5 percent of their time outside the doctor’s office, and we need to take the care to where the patients are, where it’s most meaningful for them and their community, whether that be at work, whether that be in the neighborhood, whether that be in their faith-based organization. And so I think that’s an opportunity to identify those communities in the neighborhoods that we serve and start having a conversation.

All care is local, all care is relationship-based and even just saying, “I don’t know. Help me understand what’s most important to you, what’s most important to your family.” Maybe say for diabetes care, “What do you want to work on?” not what are my goals for you, but, “what are your goals for yourself?” and here’s what’s recommended so I can come and have a discussion with you — based on what your symptoms are, based on your conditions, here’s the recommended care. Now how do we have a discussion on what’s important to you, and how can I help support you. I’ve been in practice for the last 20 years, and I’ve learned so much from my patients that I didn’t know when I first went into medicine. As we become more diverse as a community, I continue to learn more things and so I think from that standpoint it’s really, it gives us the joy in practice to be able to really learn from our patients as well as share with our patients what we’ve learned over the years.