Cultural Awareness Training: Is It Really Effective?

Cultural awareness training has become increasingly popular in a variety of sectors, with the intention of improving intercultural clinical encounters and patient outcomes, and reducing health disparities. However, the capacity of cultural awareness training to achieve such outcomes is rarely analyzed exhaustively. This article applies a critical perspective to training in cultural awareness and its derivatives by examining the philosophies and assumptions on which they are based and verifying their effectiveness. It is argued that culturally conscious approaches are too generalizing, simplistic and impractical, and can even induce unintended negative consequences.

Decades of research suggest that they have not achieved significant results in healthcare settings and beyond. The broadest expectations about their ability to reduce health disparities are almost certainly unattainable. Alternative suggestions for improving intercultural interactions in health care and research are discussed. Cultural awareness is a multifaceted concept that encompasses the ability to recognize differences and similarities between cultures in any given situation, the ability to adapt and face unknown cultural contexts, increase interest in learning about other cultural groups, and the ability to plan and use these skills in intercultural interactions.

It is suggested that initiatives focused on doctors should be rethought, and if any derivative of training in cultural awareness persists, community outreach initiatives should also be included to improve negative attitudes in the community. There is evidence to suggest that intercultural training can improve the knowledge, confidence and attitudes of health professionals, even if only temporarily after the intervention. However, for many workshop instructors, there is a strong financial incentive to continue with workshops that have little long-term use. Cultural awareness was the first structured cultural education program, which originated in the United States in the 1960s, and its iterations are still the most common form of training.The limitations of cultural awareness training were recognized more than four decades ago.

While some trainings include more than 30 hours of content, they are likely to be condensed into a period of two or three days with little continuation beyond the initial workshop. A superficial search of academic literature on training in cultural awareness will allow us to find hundreds of thousands of articles on the concepts and their supposed advantages. In addition to being difficult to put into practice (and sometimes fetishize), it is almost certain that this cultural esoteric cannot be explained by the duration of a workshop.

Allison Tarras
Allison Tarras

Devoted twitter geek. Extreme social media practitioner. Award-winning zombie geek. Friendly web scholar. Amateur zombie fanatic.