Cultural Competence

Cultural competence has also emerged as a commonly cited goal of medical education and practice. Cultural competence refers to the ability of health care providers to understand at least basic elements of others’ cul- tures, recognize the impact of their own cultural identity and biases on their interactions with clients, and thus provide medical care that better meets their clients’ emotional as well as physical needs. Research suggests that culturally competent health care increases the odds that individuals from minority communities will seek health care, feel satisfied with that care, and as a result follow their doctors’ recommendations.

The Association of American Medical Colleges, as well as numerous organi- zations representing various medical specialties, officially endorse the inclusion of cultural competence in medical training. Increasing numbers of medical students now attend lectures on cultural competence and participate in overseas programs designed to increase their understanding of other cultures. Similarly, hospitals and community clinics increasingly are trying to meet the cultural needs of their patients through such means as inviting Hmong shamans to perform healing rituals in hospital rooms and serving traditional Korean soups to Korean patients. In the long run, such efforts may restructure medical culture and doctor–patient relationships.

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