Background Cultural awareness education is mandatory for medical programs, with particular emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. However, there is limited evidence to measure the impact of such education has on medical students.
Aims This paper presents the development and delivery of a cultural immersion activity for first year undergraduate medical students. Additionally we explore how this type of activity may improve attitudes, comprehension and perceived competence relating to working with and understanding people of different cultures.
Methods A pre- and post-survey design was utilised in connection with a cultural immersion activity. First year medical students (N=284, responses 196, 69 per cent) from three cohorts (2012–2014 inclusive) voluntarily completed a cultural awareness questionnaire, which contained items that related to perceptions, personal characteristics and educational competence. The main outcome measures were changes in perceived cultural knowledge, awareness, beliefs and attitudes. Data were analysed using principal component analysis and obtained means comparison. Results Principal component analysis revealed five dimensions for pre-post comparison: Knowledge Acquisition, Perceptions of Role Modelling, Internal Beliefs and Reflections, Personality Variables and Institutional Influences. Non-parametric means comparison showed increased ratings for knowledge acquisition and institutional influences (p<0.001), whilst a decline was noted for the personality variables (p<0.05).
Conclusion Cultural immersion has great potential to elicit positive shifts in attitudinal and knowledge related aspects of cultural awareness at early stages in medical curricula. Negative directions also suggest that students question their beliefs and behaviours relating to cultural knowledge.