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Open Access Research article

Self-assessment of intercultural communication skills: a survey of physicians and medical students in Geneva, Switzerland

Patricia Hudelson1*, Noelle Junod Perron1 and Thomas Perneger2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Medicine, Primary Care and Emergency Medicine, University Hospitals of Geneva, 4, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil, 1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland

2 Division of Clinical Epidemiology, University Hospitals of Geneva, 4, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil, 1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland

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BMC Medical Education 2011, 11:63  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-11-63

Published: 1 September 2011



Physicians working with multicultural populations need to know how to elicit the patient's understanding of the illness; determine the patient's sociocultural context and identify any issues that might affect care; communicate effectively across patient-provider social and cultural differences; and collaborate effectively with an interpreter. Skills self-assessment can contribute to identifying training needs and monitoring skills development in these areas.


As part of a larger study exploring the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Geneva physicians and medical students regarding the care of immigrant patients, we asked respondents to self-rate their ability to perform a range of common yet challenging intercultural communication tasks.


Overall, respondents rated themselves less competent at intercultural tasks than at basic medical skills and less competent at specific intercultural communication skills than at general intercultural skills. Qualified doctors (as opposed to students), those with greater interest in caring for immigrants, and those who rarely encountered difficulties with immigrants rated themselves significantly more competent for all clinical tasks. Having a higher percentage of immigrant patients and previous cultural competence training predicted greater self-rated intercultural communication skills.


Our self-assessment results suggest that students and physicians should be provided with the opportunity to practice intercultural skills with immigrant patients as part of their cultural competence training. To strengthen the validity of self-assessment measures, they should ideally be combined with more objective methods to assess actual skills.

cultural competence; self-assessment; intercultural communication; immigrants