Cultural Competencies

Cultural Competency

Increasing your awareness and sensitivity about other cultures is one of the many benefits your field experience offers. This can be an exciting opportunity to learn something new and connect with people on multiple levels, all of which will lead to a richer experience for you and provide a strong foundation as you pursue your role as a public health professional.

Driven by evidence documenting the relationship between cultural competence and health disparities, the Association of Schools of Public Health and the Association of American Medical Colleges worked with a panel of scholars to develop best practices.

The associations categorized the competences in three domains; some examples include:

Knowledge (students will be able to):

  • Define the dimensions of culture to include language, sexual orientation, gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, beliefs, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment.
  • Identify cultural factors that contribute to overall health and wellness.
  • Examine factors that contribute to health disparities, particularly social, economic, environmental, health systems, and access.

Skills (students will be able to): 

  • Communicate in a culturally competent manner with patients, families and communities.
  • Incorporate culture as a key component of patient, family and community history.
  • Identify one’s own assets and learning needs related to cultural competence.

Attitudes (students will): 

  • Appreciate how cultural competence contributes to the practice of public health.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to apply the principles of cultural competence.
  • Appreciate that becoming culturally competent involves life-long learning.

To help demonstrate cultural sensitivity regardless of your field experience environment, here are some questions to ask your preceptor and others you’ll be working with:

  • Describe the site climate. Are people collaborative and team-oriented or do they tend to work on their own; is the environment quiet or chatty, what personality types tend to thrive in this environment? What is the dress code? How are people addressed (titles or by their first name)?
  • What is some important information I need to know about the community I am serving? How might I be perceived by this community and do you have some suggestions on how I can make strong connections with them? How can I prepare (books, articles, websites and programs)? What are some cultural norms that might be specific to the community I am working with?
  • What else might help me serve this community most appropriately? Considerations may range widely, from the type of food you bring for lunch (does this community observe certain food codes) to how it is eaten to body language to vocabulary.

Our campus has many helpful resources to assist you in developing your cultural competence. If you would like more information, please contact Sherlonda Clarke (sdclarke@umn.edu), the school’s coordinator for diversity and experiential learning programs.

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