Assessing medical student cultural competence: what really matters

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OBJECTIVES: The study aimed to explore medical students' attitudes and beliefs toward Latino patients, specifically: to assess students' levels of knowledge, cultural competence, and comfort with Latinos; to determine students' exposure to and previous experience with Latinos; and to evaluate whether factors such as study abroad, living abroad, previous clinical experience with Latinos, and language proficiency predict Latino knowledge, cultural competence, and comfort with Latinos.METHODS: This study utilized a cross-sectional survey design. Participants were third and fourth year medical students at three medical schools in the Southeastern United States. Three composite measures: Latino knowledge, Cultural competence, and Comfort with Latino patients, were predicted in a multivariate regression model including individual sociodemographic characteristics and past clinical or social experience with Latinos.RESULTS: A total of 170 medical students completed the survey (43% response rate). Spanish language proficiency was a statistically significant predictor (t(131)=2.72, p<0.05) of Latino knowledge. Social interaction with Latinos in the past year (t(126)=3.09, p<0.01), ever having lived in a Spanish-speaking country (t(126)=2.86,  p<0.01), and Spanish language proficiency (t(126)=3.28, p<0.01) independently predicted cultural competence. Previous clinical experience with Latinos was not significantly associated with the three composite dependent variables, and comfort with Latino patients was not significantly predicted by any of the six Latino-related explanatory variables.CONCLUSIONS: Factors prior to medical school matriculation and during medical education may contribute to increased cultural competence and comfort with multicultural patients. Cultural patient-partner programs may be an effective way to increase cultural competence within the confines of medical school curricula.




Sherrill, W. W., Mayo, R. M., Truong, K. D., Pribonic, A. P., & Schalkoff, C. A. (2016). Assessing medical student cultural competence: what really matters. International Journal of Medical Education, 7, 248–254.

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