Katheleen Hawes

Advisor Department

Nursing, College of




As an aspiring Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, I designed my honors project in hopes to gain experience in the field. I began with assisting Professor Katheleen Hawes in her research linking nurse stress and genetics in the NICU at Women and Infants Hospital (WIH), which led to an exclusive internship with the nurse educator of the unit. After weeks of exposure, I defined a lack of cultural competence and investigated ways to improve in this area of care through a literature review. Many interventions were noted, specifically educational simulation, which is effective at increasing cultural empathy of health care professionals. As a result, this can facilitate family-centered care and optimal patient outcomes.


nursing; cultural competence; NICU; neonatal


Three years ago I lost my newborn cousin to Cytomegalovirus, a virus notorious for crossing the maternal placenta and causing neonatal disease. As a student nurse the pain and grief that I felt through this difficult time helped uncover my desire to give infants born in critical situations like my cousin a chance to survive, and to provide compassionate family-centered care to support families like my own. My passion for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nursing has driven my honors project, with the hope of obtaining the experience necessary to achieve my goal. This included an exclusive internship with the NICU nurse educator at Women and Infant’s Hospital, where I noted a lack of cultural competence affecting the quality of care provided to the families of infants from diverse cultures.

Cultural competence is a set of behaviors, attitudes, and skills that allow a professional to work effectively in cross-cultural situations (Shen, 2015). These culturally competent behaviors and attitudes are found to be lacking in health care professionals today but can be cultivated through educational intervention, which I examined in a review of literature. Simulation experiences and training are both methods proven to have a positive impact on cultural competence in health care professionals and subsequently increase quality of care, patient outcomes, and family satisfaction.

Based on the diverse population I have been exposed to through my experience in the NICU this year, I believe cultural education should be offered to NICU nurses across the nation. Cultural competence of nurses and other health care professionals is just one small change that can help provide culturally diverse families with the empathy, strength, and support they need to take on the incredible challenge of having an infant in the NICU.