Useful Concepts and Exercises for Training Intercultural Health Teams
This paper was originally published in the Proceedings of the First Annual Interdisciplinary Teams in Primary Care Conference, which took place May 3-5, 1979 in Seattle, Washington. It is reproduced here with the permission of the authors.
Health care teams, despite their implied values of egalitarianism, shared responsibility and decision-making, and acknowledgement of psycho-social factors in health and disease, can exhibit many of the same cultural barriers and biases as do individual providers in minority group settings. However, they can be structured to include membership and input from minority group constituencies, if only because teams are new, and many roles and functions are not yet cast in tradition. Working collaboratively to give care is a potentially fruitful environment for mutual understanding and learning between races. The intercultural health team is, in effect, a laboratory, where whites can learn to become aware of and responsive to issues that nonwhites face in obtaining health care.
At the same time, the success of intercultural collaboration has been extremely uneven. The depth of feelings and misinformation around race and culture seems to be difficult to overcome in a brief course on cultural awareness or a workshop on racial understanding. Distrust, individual personality differences and the traditional hierarchical structure of health care make the success of an intercultural team experience problematic, to say the least.
Having indicated that intercultural team experiences can be a rich source for growth in understanding and cooperation for participants as well as potentially stressful, we would like to focus on some specific assumptions and exercises used to train intercultural student health teams in the Summer Preceptorship Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. The program was started in 1976 as a means of enhancing motivation and retention of Indian students in the University's Health Sciences Program, as well as strengthening motivation for service to underserved populations among non-Indian medical and nursing students.