Four Years Later: Cultural Understanding in Medical School

uvmmedicine blogger Soraiya Thura '18
uvmmedicine blogger Soraiya Thura ’18

This is the second blog post in a series about students’ experiences with the Intercultural Development Inventory at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine. Read the first post from Elizabeth Lynch ‘21.

I’ve grown in many ways during my four years in medical school, but one of the most striking has been related to my cultural competence. When I took the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as a first-year medical student, my results showed that I understood similarities and universal values amongst individuals, but was still working on appreciating differences. Fast forward to my fourth year, when I had an opportunity to retake the IDI.  I was stunned when I reviewed my results:  My “movement” along the Intercultural Development Continuum scale that the IDI uses for assessment had increased dramatically towards an intercultural/global mindset. How did my medical education influence this dramatic change, and why is this important?

As a quick review, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) is an online tool to assess cultural competence, which is the ability to understand differing cultural perspectives, and adapt one’s behavior to these differences as well as commonalities.  A 50-item questionnaire assesses your views regarding your own personal cultural identity, your culture in relation to that of others, as well as how you view individuals who are different than yourself. At the end, you can describe your own experiences with open-ended questions. Numerous organizations and institutions have used the IDI; however, the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine is the first medical school to administer the test to its students. All first-year students now take the IDI, and then have the opportunity to take it again at a later point in their medical school career. The goal? To appreciate whether the curriculum and our experiences improve our cultural competence and cross-cultural goals throughout medical school.

My experiences at are not unlike that of my fellow classmates, sprinkled with the unique nature of my clerkship year and my specific choices to increase my cultural competence. The anatomy (human structure and function) course, team-based learning activities, small group sessions and many more activities in my first and second year have certainly contributed to my ability to communicate with a variety of individuals who are rich in ideas and knowledge. We also learned about epidemiology and worked on public health projects, where we had the responsibility to try and understand the perspectives of community members who may have had very different experiences than our own. Early on, we learned about health disparities and the urgent issues affecting our communities. I attended public health lectures and events held by the college’s office of diversity and inclusion. With all of these opportunities, I was given the tools to understand how to think in an intercultural way.

Third-year clerkship and my fourth-year rotations gave me the deep experiences and interactions that I believe truly honed my cross-cultural thinking and practice. I had the opportunity to learn at hospitals in Maine, Connecticut, Florida, and Vermont during my rotations, and in more cities during fourth year. These patient populations represented many different cultures and individuals who brought with them a variety of ways of thinking about health and well-being. In the 21st century healthcare workplace, where there is such a diversity of people, ideas, and cultural ways to cope with illness, I think it is essential and extremely relevant for the Larner College of Medicine to help its students achieve goals in cultural competence. The Intercultural Development Inventory is a unique, but also reliable, means of gauging where we are in terms of our ability to adapt to working with different cultures and backgrounds. And most importantly, the IDI is a development resource – it suggests ways for us to work on our own goals. We can always improve, and this tool can help us increase our cultural understanding over time.

What are your thoughts about this topic?