Perspectives of Cultural Competency from an International Service Learning Project

Published:April 14, 2014DOI:
      Editor's Note: This article is part of a series from the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors (NDEP) committee on topics of interest in dietetics education. A collection of education articles is available at the increased cultural diversity of the population of the United States and the awareness of marked health care disparities, an understanding of cultural differences is imperative for health care providers. Accordingly, preparing dietetic students to become culturally competent practitioners becomes fundamental. One potential method of enhancing cultural awareness and competence is to incorporate international service learning (ISL) experiences into the curriculum. A critical element of service learning is reflection. The purpose of this survey was to determine the impact of a short-duration ISL program on the cultural awareness and competence of dietetic interns. This survey applied qualitative and quantitative methods to analyze students' reflective, electronic journals and service-learning surveys to assess the impact of internal service learning on the development of cultural awareness and reflective thinking. The survey involved six dietetic interns enrolled in a combined Master's degree/dietetic internship program who completed a 1-week service-learning experience in Belize. Interns completed supervised practice experiences in clinical and community settings and blogged their experiences each night. In addition, students completed the Health Professions Schools in Service to the Nation (HPSISN) Student Survey to assess changes in cultural awareness and competence. The survey demonstrated that ISL experiences serve to inform dietetic interns' cultural awareness, competence, and practice. A short-duration ISL is an effective pedagogy that can be integrated in the dietetic education curriculum.
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