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Viewpoint: Cultural Competence and the African American Experience with Health Care: The Case for Specific Content in Cross-Cultural Education

Eiser, Arnold R. MD, FACP; Ellis, Glenn

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31802d92ea
Cultural Competence

Achieving cultural competence in the care of a patient who is a member of an ethnic or racial minority is a multifaceted project involving specific cultural knowledge as well as more general skills and attitude adjustments to advance cross-cultural communication in the clinical encounter. Using the important example of the African American patient, the authors examine relevant historical and cultural information as it relates to providing culturally competent health care. The authors identify key influences, including the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow discrimination, the Tuskegee syphilis study, religion’s interaction with health care, the use of home remedies, distrust, racial concordance and discordance, and health literacy. The authors propose that the awareness of specific information pertaining to ethnicity and race enhances cross-cultural communication and ways to improve the cultural competence of physicians and other health care providers by providing a historical and social context for illness in another culture. Cultural education, modular in nature, can be geared to the specific populations served by groups of physicians and provider organizations. Educational methods should include both information about relevant social group history as well as some experiential component to emotively communicate particular cultural needs. The authors describe particular techniques that help bridge the cross-cultural clinical communication gaps that are created by patients’ mistrust, lack of cultural understanding, differing paradigms for illness, and health illiteracy.

Dr. Eiser is vice president, Department of Medical Education, Mercy Health System of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and professor of medicine and associate dean, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Ellis is president, Strategies for Well-Being LLC, Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Eiser, 1500 Lansdowne Ave., Darby, PA 19023; telephone: (610) 237-5620; fax: (610) 237-4762; e-mail: (

© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges