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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

"That never would have occurred to me": a qualitative study of medical students' views of a cultural competence curriculum

Johanna Shapiro1*, Desiree Lie1, David Gutierrez2 and Gabriella Zhuang1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, University of California Irvine, School of Medicine, Rte 81, Bldg 200, 101 City Drive South, Orange, CA 92868, USA

2 University of California, Irvine, Irvine, California, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:31  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-6-31

Published: 26 May 2006



The evidence is mixed regarding the efficacy of cultural competence curricula in developing learners' knowledge, attitudes and skills. More research is needed to better understand both the strengths and shortcomings of existing curricula from the perspective of learners in order to improve training.


We conducted three focus groups with medical students in their first year of clinical training to assess their perceptions of the cultural competence curriculum at a public university school of medicine.


Students evaluated the informal curriculum as a more important source of learning about cultural competence than the formal curriculum. In terms of bias in both self and others, the cultural competence curriculum increased awareness, but was less effective in teaching specific interventional skills. Students also noted that the cultural competence curriculum did not always sufficiently help them find a balance between group-specific knowledge and respect for individual differences. Despite some concerns as to whether political correctness characterized the cultural competence curriculum, it was also seen as a way to rehumanize the medical education experience.


Future research needs to pay attention to issues such as perceived relevance, stereotyping, and political correctness in developing cross-cultural training programs.