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Cultural competency training

More than 40 faculty members benefited from the college's new cultural competency training Nov. 25 at the Center for Community Cooperation in Dallas.

The training retreat was the latest in a series that started this year to educate students, faculty and staff about the role of culture in the acceptance and delivery of oral health care.

The retreat was organized by the college's Cultural Competency Task Force, which includes Drs. Lavern Holyfield, assistant professor and director of faculty development; Barbara Miller, executive director of recruitment and admissions; and Claude Williams, director of community outreach. The retreat's format included breakout sessions, which were facilitated by task force members with help from Dr. Steve Griffin, director of clinics, and Drs. Marvin Hirsh and Rosemarie Zartman, assistant professors in restorative sciences.

Holyfield says the faculty's response to the training exceeded expectations.

"Our goal, in terms of outcome, was for faculty to realize that we need to address cultural competency in more aspects of the curriculum. They did that, but they also produced additional outcomes that we didn't expect," she says.

For example, the faculty members discussed ideas to incorporate cultural competency into patient care, such as including more information on the patient agreement form about the college's values regarding diversity.

The idea for cultural competency training developed in 2007 when Holyfield, Miller and Williams attended a workshop sponsored by the Center for Health at the University of California in San Francisco. They believed this new training would help patient care and highlight the academic and legal requirements for cultural competency. The training also could support diversity standards established by the college's strategic plan and the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The new training plan started this year with first-year dental students and dental hygiene students, who attended training sessions in August. As the dental students matriculate, the task force expects that some aspect of cultural competency skill-building will be incorporated throughout their curriculum. By the time they graduate, they will be the first graduates with such comprehensive education.

The training is particularly helpful to students as they treat patients in the college's clinics. A step in cultural competency, Holyfield says, is for students to recognize that patients not only have differences in language, but also ethnicity and culture. Teaching students some communication tools can help them overcome cultural barriers and provide more effective care.

Holyfield says another cultural challenge in the clinical setting is showing respect for patients' beliefs, which is a frequent challenge in Western medicine because it traditionally has a more aggressive approach. Dentists also must help build trust with patients so they know they'll be given the best care possible.

Now that both the student and faculty trainings have been implemented, the next step is to develop training for staff.

"We think it's going to make a difference, judging from the faculty's response in November," Holyfield says.