The influence of those you study and socialize with Editor - Susan Bannister
The Impact of Cross-Cultural Interactions on Medical Students' Preparedness to Care for Diverse Patients. Niu NN et al. Academic Medicine. 87(11):1530-1534
Reviewed by Virginia Cleppe
What was the study question?
What cross-cultural interactions are most associated with students’ self-rated
preparedness to care for patients with diverse backgrounds?
How was the study done?
The authors surveyed first through post-fourth year Harvard Medical School students
about their 1) basic demographic information, 2) voluntary interethnic interactions
among medical students (i.e. studying, socializing), 3) participation in professionally-
related, volunteer extracurricular activities pertaining to cross-cultural care (eg.
delivering health services to underserved populations), and 4) students’ self-rated
preparedness to care for diverse patients.
What were the results?
Seventy-five percent of students felt they were prepared to care for patients from
backgrounds different than their own. Students who spent more study time with
peers from different backgrounds reported that they felt significantly more prepared
on 5 of the 12 more specific questions (performing patient history, performing
physical exam, building trust, caring for patients of a culture different from their
own, and caring for patients of a racial/ethnic minority) than students who did not.
Social time spent with peers from different backgrounds, on the other hand, was not
a predictor of preparedness.
What are the implications of these findings?
As the authors note, these findings suggest that medical schools should continue
their efforts in recruiting diverse classes and should foster, nurture, and support
multicultural academic and extracurricular pursuits. Whether this actually has an
effect on students’ ability to care for patients from backgrounds different than their
own is still not determined.
Editor’s note: As the authors point out: Is it the process of studying together that
makes students rate themselves as more prepared to interact with different cultural
backgrounds or, is it that students who choose to study with peers from different
backgrounds are more tolerant to start with and, therefore, rate themselves as being
better able to interact with different cultural backgrounds. The authors acknowledge
the flaws inherent with self-assessment. This study would be far more powerful if we
knew how the students actually performed with patients of different backgrounds.
But, perhaps, medical schools should consider these finding when assigning small
groups and intentionally place students of different backgrounds together (SLB).