Improving cultural competence education: the utility of an intersectional framework.Med Educ 2012; 46(6):545-51ME
Most US medical schools have instituted cultural competence education in the undergraduate curriculum. This training is intended to improve the quality of care that doctors, the majority of whom are White, deliver to ethnic and racial minority patients. Research into the outcomes of cultural competence training programmes reveals that they have been largely ineffective in improving doctors' skills. In varied curricular formats, programmes tend to teach group-specific cultural knowledge, despite the vast heterogeneity of racial and ethnic groups. This cultural essentialism diminishes training effectiveness.
This paper proposes key curriculum content changes and suggests the inclusion of an intersectional framework in the cultural competence curriculum. This framework maintains that racial and ethnic minority groups hold multiple social statuses, called social locations, which interact with one another to uniquely shape the health views, needs and experiences of the individuals within the groups. Social locations include those defined by race, ethnicity, gender, social class and sexuality, which are experienced multiplicatively, not additively, within a particular social context. Cultural competence education must go beyond simplified cultural understandings to explore these more complex meanings. Doctors' ability to understand, communicate with and treat diverse groups can be vastly improved by applying an intersectional framework in academic research, self-awareness exercises and clinical training.
Integrating an intersectional framework into cultural competency education can better prepare doctors for caring for racial and ethnic minority patients. This paper recommends curriculum elements for the classroom and clinical training that can improve doctor knowledge and skills for caring for diverse groups. Medical schools can use the proposed model to facilitate the development of new educational strategies and learning experiences. These improvements can lead to more equitable care and ultimately diminish disparities in health care. Although these recommendations are designed with US schools in mind, they may improve doctor understanding and care of marginal populations across the world.