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Clinical Myths of the Cultural “Other”: Implications for Latino Patient Care

Hunt, Linda M. PhD; de Voogd, Katherine B. MA

Research Report

Purpose Cultural competency is now a requirement in the curriculum of many health professions. However, clinicians’ understandings of cultural difference, the accuracy of those understandings, and their impact on patient care have not yet been carefully explored. The authors conducted an ethnographic study designed to describe clinicians’ views of Latino culture in the context of amniocentesis decision making, compared those to patients’ discussions of their decision making, and explored how clinicians’ views about culture are manifested in consultations with Latinas.

Method Between 2000 and 2002, semistructured, open-ended interviews were conducted in southern Texas with convenience samples of 50 clinicians who discuss prenatal testing with patients, and 40 self-identified Latina patients who had been offered amniocentesis. Observations were also made of 101 genetic counseling sessions. Content analysis focused on the cultural characteristics clinicians identified as affecting Latinas’ decision making, patients’ self-reported decision-making processes, and clinician and patient comments and actions observed during genetics counseling sessions.

Results Most clinicians said Latinas are likely to decline amniocentesis because they are religious, fatalistic, male-dominated, family-centered, and superstitious. However, patients’ discussions of their decision making were not consistent with these characterizations. Furthermore, clinicians reported providing less complete information to Latina patients in their efforts to be culturally sensitive.

Conclusions Comparing patient and clinician interviews bring into question clinicians’ notion of Latino culture’s role in amniocentesis decision making. Efforts to be “culturally competent,” in the absence of a patient-centered approach, may unintentionally encourage stereotyping, thereby negatively affecting the quality and content of clinical care.

Dr. Hunt is associate professor, Department of Anthropology, and Julian Samora Research Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Ms. de Voogd is project coordinator, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Hunt, Department of Anthropology, 354 Baker Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824; telephone: (517) 355-0114; fax: (517) 432-9952; e-mail: (

© 2005 Association of American Medical Colleges