Exploring Effects of a Cultural Immersion Experience on Health Care Students Cultural Competence

Monday, 9 November 2015

Stacie Olson, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, RN, NP
Joni Tweeten, RN, MS, MPH, RN APHN-BC
Department of Nursing, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA


Problem: Health care providers are expected to be prepared to provide culturally sensitive care to the US’s increasingly diverse population. Baccalaureate education can be full of essential content which can limit the available culturally diverse experiences for students. Not all students at this university have clinical experiences that expose them to various diverse cultures, especially living in the Midwest, where there are limitations to access diverse populations. There are many studies that support immersion experiences in international countries to prepare health care students to increase cultural competence. Many studies demonstrate health care students developing a change in knowledge, values, communication skills, and development of a more culturally focused health care practice. The purpose of this study is to explore the impact of an international cultural immersion experience on health care student’s cultural competency.

Methodology: Students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate social work or nursing courses at the University Of North Dakota will be invited to voluntarily participate in the study. Students will be asked to consent to participate prior to the immersion experience in Guatemala over spring break week. An email with a link to the consent on an online survey tool in which each student can click  ‘agree’ to consent to proceed with the qualitative survey questions. 

Qualitative question data will be collected about student’s perceptions of cultural competency and knowledge. Qualitative data will be collected pre-immersion, 1-2 weeks post immersion, and about 2-3 months post immersion experience.  The qualitative questions will take about 20-30 minutes to complete.

Students who have consented to participate in this study will also be asked to complete the paper/pencil Inventory for assessing the process of cultural competence among healthcare professionals-student version (IAPCC-SV) survey pre-immersion, 1-2 weeks post immersion, and about 2-3 months post immersion experience. The IAPCC-SV survey tool consists of 20 4-point Likert-type scale survey questions which take 10-15 minutes to complete. 

Students will be provided a journal from the researchers prior to going on the immersion experience and encouraged to document their personal reflections about the culture and their experiences while in the immersion experience each day.  With permission from students, journals will be reviewed upon return from the immersion experience for common themes in cultural knowledge and competency.

Analysis: Quantitative data will be reported in aggregate form using descriptive correlational non-parametric analysis.  Qualitative data will be used illustratively only.  Researchers will analyze qualitative survey questions and journals to construct comparison for common themes.

Implications for Practice: It is important for educators to spend time teaching about cultural competence in the health care fields.  Health care providers are expected to be prepared to provide culturally sensitive care to the U.S.’s increasingly diverse population in various health care settings.  With limited access to diverse populations for experiences,  it is important for educators to look for alternative ways to provide cultural encounters for students to learn about the importance of providing cultural competent care. International immersion experiences can support learning about cultural competency and be a regular part of a curriculum for students in the health care fields.