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What is cultural safety?

What does it mean to provide culturally safe care? Hear from Professor Gregory Phillips in this video as he explains what cultural safety means.

What does it mean to provide culturally safe care? In this video Professor Gregory Phillips discusses cultural safety in the context of providing health care for Australia’s First Peoples.

In health, we focus on clinical, legal and ethical safety, however cultural safety is just as important and often deeply lacking. Let’s review some of the important terms referred to in the video and explore their definitions.

Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness allows us to recognise we are each shaped by our individual cultural backgrounds. This influences how we interpret the world around us, perceive ourselves and how we relate to other people (Durey, Thompson & Wood, 2011).

More on cultural awareness shortly.

Cultural Sensitivity

Having cultural sensitivity means we can understand, and therefore be sensitive towards, individual differences, uniqueness and diversity. This begins to develop when we become aware of the influences of our own culture and acknowledge that we have biases. This can be an eye-opening experience, often taking courage and humility. With cultural awareness and sensitivity comes a responsibility to act safely and respectfully around others.

Cultural Safety

This is defined as the way in which respect for culture is established within an organisation, such as your health service. It is about overcoming the cultural power imbalances of places, people and policies to contribute to improvements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (AIDA, 2017). The goal of cultural safety is for all people to feel respected and safe when they interact with the health care system.

What most people know about Australia’s First Peoples mostly originates through mass media that perpetuates negative stereotypes. Nairn et al (2014) discuss the implications that these media practices have for cultural safety in nursing practice. Look out for the PDF download at the bottom of this page to learn more.

What does it mean to have ‘cultural respect’?

For First Peoples, cultural respect centres on the ‘recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Australian Government, 2017).’

Developing cultural respect for First Peoples, requires you to:

  • recognise the impact that colonisation has on the contemporary health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • recognise, affirm and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ ways of knowing, doing and being, through a commitment to ongoing learning in your health care practice
  • advance the rights, cultures and traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Your task

Join the discussion and share your thoughts on the importance of culturally safe healthcare with each other. In what specific ways do you show cultural respect to First Peoples in your clinical practice? You may wish to review AIDA’s website to access practical resources, such as the Factsheet and Cultural Safety Toolkit.


AIDA. (2017). Australian Indigenous Doctor’s Association. Cultural Safety Fact Sheet.

Australian Government. (2017). Department of Health. Cultural Respect Framework 2016-2026.

Durey, A., Thompson, S.C. & Wood, M. (2011). Time to bring down the twin towers in poor Aboriginal hospital care: addressing institutionalised racism and misunderstandings in communication. Internal Medicine Journal, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 17-22.

Nairn, R., DeSouza, R., Moewaka, A., Barnes, Rankine, J., Borell, B., and McCreanor, T. (2014). Nursing in media-saturated societies: implications for cultural safety in nursing practice in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Research in Nursing September 19: 477-487.

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Safer Healthcare for Australia's First Peoples

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