Teaching and Justice

Creating an Inclusive Environment in Healthcare

by Kim Levenhagen, Associate Professor, Program in Physical Therapy

According to a report from the United States Census Bureau, by 2020, more than half of the nation’s children will belong to a minority race or ethnic group. Yet as our country grows more diverse each year, our healthcare facilities continue to lag in creating a diverse environment. A failure to incorporate cultural diversity into the various healthcare professions may result in potentially negative community-wide impact. The Health Professionals of Diversity Coalition provides the following solutions for narrowing the gap and promoting cultural diversity in healthcare facilities:

  • By encountering and interacting with individuals from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds during training, health professionals are better able to serve the nation’s diverse society by having broadened perspectives of racial, ethnic and cultural similarities and differences.
  • Growing evidence shows that diversity in education environments can improve learning outcomes for all students, improving such skills as active thinking, intellectual engagement and motivation, as well as certain social and civic skills, such as the ability to empathize and have racial and cultural understanding.

Providing students an opportunity to explore social issues in healthcare is the first step toward “cultural humility.” Cultural humility is an approach to cultural competency training that proposes change through a process of learning which includes self-reflection of one’s own awareness, knowledge, behavior, and attitudes on the interplay of power, privilege, and social contexts. This can be achieved through case studies, personality theory tests, discussion on experiential, generational and cultural differences, or implicit bias quizzes. For many students, the “Project Implicit” quiz is an eye-opener as the student develops a self-awareness of their own prejudices and stereotypes. Students often claim to be “embarrassed” until an environment is created to discuss their own lenses based on socioeconomic class, gender, cultural, generational, and family differences. Through exposure, the student can recognize their own biases while actively engaging to learn more about others and embrace inclusionary practices. Each person must recognize that the road to cultural competence is a lifelong process through awareness, exploring social issues, and self-reflection.

As faculty training the next generation of healthcare professionals, we must teach our students to be ever-vigilant to the needs and complexities of the individual seeking medical care. Students must leave SLU open to change, knowledgeable of personal and professional biases, and willing to advocate for others. Teaching our students on how to create an inclusive environment which focuses on patient-centered care is one step toward narrowing the gap of social injustices within healthcare.

“The longer we listen to one another-with real attention, the more commonality we will find in all of our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simply opinions.” Barbara Deming