National Center for Cultural Competence
Who Is the Cultural Broker?

The characteristics, roles, and skills of cultural brokers are highly variable. Currently, the term cultural broker is used to denote a range of individuals from immigrant children who negotiate two or more cultures daily (Phillips & Crowell, 1994) to leaders in organizations who serve as catalysts for change (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). The range and complexity of roles are equally varied. Cultural brokers may serve as intermediaries at the most basic level bridging the cultural gap by communicating differences and similarities between cultures. They may also serve in more sophisticated roles mediating and negotiating complex processes within organizations, government, communities, and between interest groups or countries.

One cultural broker may have extensive training and experience; another may have just been appointed to this role for example, a parent in the community, or a support person in the organization and wish to learn what is involved. In a broader sense, many staff working in health care settings or health education programs span the boundaries of the culture of health care and the cultures of the people they serve.

1. Cultural broker as a liaison

Cultural brokers are knowledgeable in two realms: (1) the health values, beliefs, and practices within their cultural group or community and (2) the health care system that they have learned to navigate effectively for themselves and their families. They serve as communicators and liaisons between the patients/consumers and the providers in the health care agency.

These personnel can play a critical and beneficial role on a personal level, in the community in which they live, and on a professional level, in their respective agencies
or practices. These personnel effectively bridge the two worlds. Similarly, NHSC scholars and clinicians in service, who come from diverse cultural backgrounds, also may be effective in assuming this role and function particularly when housed in service areas where they have an understanding of the values, beliefs, and practices of the community.

2. Cultural broker as a cultural guide

Cultural brokers may serve as guides for health care settings that are in the process of incorporating culturally and linguistically competent principles, values, and practices. They not only understand the strengths and needs of the community, but also are cognizant of the structures and functions of the health care setting. These cultural brokers can assist in developing educational materials that will help patients/consumers to learn more about the health care setting and its functions. They also can provide guidance on implementing workforce diversity initiatives.

Some organizations that are well connected to the communities they serve use a community member as a cultural broker because of the members insight and experiences. A critical requisite for the cultural broker is having the respect and trust of the community. Using a community member as a cultural broker is acknowledgment that this expertise resides within the community. This approach also allows the health care setting to provide support for community development.

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Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development National Center for Cultural Competence Accessibility Copyright Georgetown University e-mail: What is the role of cultural brokers in health care delivery?