This is the first blog post in a series about students’ experiences with the Intercultural Development Inventory at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. Read the second post from Soraiya Thura ’18.
I hate tests. And medical schools seem to love tests. So, I should not have been surprised when a test was required during orientation at the Larner College of Medicine. But a test on my cultural identity and my “cross-cultural competence?” Clearly, I was going to fail medical school before getting to orientation.
When I began filling out questions on the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a tool that assesses a person’s capability to shift perspectives or adapt to cultural differences, I felt uncomfortable with how focused the questions were on my own “culture.” I didn’t engage in activities explicitly associated with my Irish heritage and that was fine with me. When I left New England to go to school in North Carolina, my southern peers informed me that my culture raised me to walk too fast, talk too fast, and most importantly, it had neglected to teach me the importance of the term “y’all.” From North Carolina, to South Africa, to Chile, to Guatemala, I saw cultures completely different from mine, learned to appreciate new traditions of food, language and medicine, and adapted to living in new family structures.
It wasn’t until I worked in an asthma clinic in Washington, D.C. that I saw how little I understood the myriad of cultures here in my own country. Parents asked me to schedule visits with male doctors because they didn’t trust female doctors; they told me incense was good for their child’s asthma, and that the flu shot made people get the flu. These were my neighbors, people who grew up in the same country as me and yet were more foreign in their ideas than my Zulu siblings. I spent a lot of time in those clinic visits apologizing for accidentally misunderstanding our patients’ cultures, assuming it was the same as mine because we were from the same place. At first, it made me so uncomfortable that I would devolve into the most awkward, stilted version of myself. And it made me nervous for when I become a physician, concerned I would unintentionally create barriers between myself and my patients out of my own ignorance.
I dislike talking about my own feelings almost as much as I dislike tests, so I was nervous to meet with Tiffany Delaney, the college’s director of diversity and inclusion, about what I assumed was my IDI failure. But I knew I wanted to avoid future barriers between myself and my patients caused by my own cultural ignorance. What the IDI development plan reminded me, and Ms. Delaney assured me, is that we aren’t passing or failing any cultural tests. We are simply moving along a continuum towards a better version of ourselves. I’m excited that I’m in the Acceptance stage of the continuum, but I don’t want to stay there. My IDI Development Plan –something that every first-year student at the Larner College of Medicine has the opportunity to create with Ms. Delaney – gave me clear and tangible tools to adapt to new cultural perspectives and improve my cross-cultural competence every day. Hopefully, after all of the anatomy practicals are passed, the board exams are done, and I someday become a “real” doctor, I will be better able to understand where my patients are coming from, and where they want to go. It is my responsibility to make sure I keep moving forward on the continuum.