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Cultural Competencies Matter in Health Professions Education

New York, NY

A recent article in the journal Health Affairs bolsters the case for cultural competence as an essential component in training medical professionals and increasing the diversity of the health care workforce. The study by James Maxwell of JSI Research and Training Institute and colleagues found that the number of Hispanics in Massachusetts with health insurance and access to primary care has increased thanks to health reform in the state, but that “language and other cultural factors remained significant barriers” to getting the health care they need. 

Hispanics represent the fastest-growing minority group in the United States.  To meet the public’s health care needs, we must act now and prepare our health care workforce to provide culturally and linguistically competent care to an ever-more diverse population. 

The Macy Foundation supports a number of projects that train health professionals in cultural competencies and help develop the careers of underrepresented minorities in the health professions. 

Through the Macy Faculty Scholars program the Macy Foundation is developing a new generation of leaders at academic health centers across the country, several of whose projects will focus squarely on problems related to underrepresentation and diversity in the health professions.  As a Macy Faculty Scholar, Dena Hassouneh of the Oregon Health & Science University will develop pedagogies that will help boost minority representation in the health professional work force. Roberta Waite of Drexel University will design a mentoring and training program that will prepare minority nurses for leadership roles. 

The Macy Foundation also partnered with the National Hispanic Health Foundation to publish a report titled Increasing Diversity in the Health Professions: Recommendations to Improve Title VII of the Public Health Service Act.  The report laid out recommendations to increase the number of minorities entering the medical professions, incorporate diversity as a critical component of medical education, measure the effectiveness of diversity programs, and better coordinate federal workforce programs.

Narrowing and eventually eliminating health disparities will require that we tackle the cultural and linguistic barriers that hinder the ability of our health care system to provide quality care to all.


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