Cultural Competency at UNM School of Medicine:
Nationally and even internationally, it is widely accepted that teaching on topics of culture and diversity should be integrated into medical school teaching. Since the 1990s, discussion of health disparities have included the notion that increased cultural competency on the part of health care providers would improve health care outcomes for patients who have traditionally received unequal care. In 2002, the Institute of Medicine published Unequal Treatment, a report on several hundred studies that looked at health disparities in the United States. One of the conclusions drawn in the report is that bias and prejudice in the clinical encounter, although unintentional, contribute to health disparities, thus further making the argument for increased culture and diversity teaching in medical schools.
The importance of cultural competency teaching in medical school has been formalized by the LCME. Educational Objective 22 from the LCME Core Competencies for Medical school reads,
“Medical students in a medical education program must learn to recognize and appropriately address gender and cultural biases in themselves, in others, and in the process of health care delivery.
The objectives for instruction in the medical education program should include medical student understanding of demographic influences on health care quality and effectiveness (e.g., racial and ethnic disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases). The objectives should also address the need for self-awareness among medical students regarding any personal biases in their approach to health care delivery.”
Since it was founded in 1964, the UNM SOM has been committed to educating future physicians skilled in serving the health care needs of NM’s diverse populations. Because the UNM SOM recognizes the need for physicians and other health care providers to communicate effectively with patients of diverse racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, the school has also been dedicated to educating students to serve as physicians in NM and to developing its curriculum to include coursework in cultural competence for all future physicians. As such, the medical school has had a formal cultural competency curriculum for over 10 years now.
Recent reports have suggested that cultural competency teaching must be integrated throughout the medical school curriculum for the students to recognize its importance and clinical significance. Furthermore, an important aspect of cultural competency education is the recognition that it is a life-long learning process. At the University School of Medicine, our goal is to create a fully integrated cultural competency curriculum within the medical school building upon the course that exists and collaborating with the public health curriculum, communication skills curriculum, and other blocks and clerkships.