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Student Perspectives on Diversity and the Cultural Climate at a U.S. Medical School

Hung, Robert MD, MPH; McClendon, Jennifer MD; Henderson, Anita MD; Evans, Yolanda MD; Colquitt, Rosa PhD; Saha, Somnath MD, MPH

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31802d936a
Cultural Competence

Purpose: To obtain the perspectives of medical students at one school on racial/ethnic campus diversity and cultural competence and to gain their perceptions of the institutional climate around diversity at their university and of reasons for minority underrepresentation at their medical school.

Method: A student-driven survey of all medical students (N = 398) at a single medical school in the spring of 2003, supplemented by four focus groups from all racial and ethnic groups on the campus.

Results: A large majority of the responding students (n = 216; 54%) endorsed the value of campus diversity and the importance of cultural competence to the process of becoming a clinician. Most students felt their university had achieved a positive cultural climate, characterized by openness to diverse perspectives and attention to equity. Most students also felt that the university’s programs and policies reflected a commitment to diversity, but fewer students— those from underrepresented minorities (URMs) in particular—felt that the university truly valued having a diverse student body and faculty. Most students felt that the lack of diversity on campus was a barrier to recruiting and retaining minority candidates. Some minority students also blamed the medical school’s limited social, academic, and financial support, as well as inadequate efforts to recruit minority students.

Conclusions: Medical students generally place a high value on campus diversity and cultural competence. URM students in particular felt that their university could do more to implement its commitment to diversity, including making greater efforts to recruit and retain URM students. These views constitute a barometer for medical schools to gauge and track their efforts to enhance campus diversity, incorporate cultural competence education, and create an inclusive and welcoming climate for students of all backgrounds.

Dr. Hung is an internal medicine and psychiatry resident, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. McClendon is a family physician and medical director of the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Henderson is a family physician working at the VA Medical Center, Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Evans is an intern and recent graduate of Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Colquitt is the online course director, Providing Culturally Competent Health Care Services, and academic assistant to the Provost, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.

Dr. Saha is a physician at the Portland VA Medical Center, and associate professor of Medicine and Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Hung, 1720 West Polk Street, Chicago, IL 60612; telephone: (312) 942-5375; fax: (312) 942-3113; e-mail: (

© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges