Cultural competence among physicians treating Mexican Americans who have diabetes: a structural model

Soc Sci Med. 2004 Dec;59(11):2195-205. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.03.025.


Latinos, who constitute the fastest growing ethnically distinct US group, experience disproportionately high rates of type 2 diabetes. At the same time, linguistic and economic barriers, differing cultural expectations between patients and physicians, provider reactions based on stereotypes, and managed healthcare shortfalls limit diabetes care. Such trends highlight physicians' need to consider culture in the delivery of effective services. To address these issues we investigated predictors of culturally competent actions among a sample of 134 practicing San Diego County physicians. They provided demographic information and completed questions assessing their cultural knowledge, cultural awareness, and culturally competent actions specific to Mexican Americans with diabetes. We then developed a structural cultural competence model. Results indicated that participation in diverse medical education settings and experience in community clinics predicted cultural knowledge. Participation in diverse educational settings, Latino ethnicity, bilingual skills, and cultural knowledge predicted cultural awareness. An internal medicine specialty predicted less cultural awareness. Culturally competent actions were only predicted by cultural awareness. Goodness-of-fit statistics supported the overall model's acceptability. The number of Mexican Americans physicians see in practice did not predict any tested cultural competence dimension. Our model supports a number of conclusions. First, knowledge of cultural factors per se and simple exposure to Mexican Americans in practice do not directly facilitate culturally competent care. Rather, such care is most strongly predicted by recognition that cultural factors and awareness of personal biases are important. Results further support medical education that does not solely focus on basic information about Mexican Americans but also explores provider biases and preconceptions. Diverse educational experiences appear particularly helpful in this process. Community clinic settings also help practitioners gain cultural knowledge. While Latino ethnicity predicted cultural awareness, results also suggest that all physicians can take steps towards increasing their cultural competence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Awareness*
  • California
  • Culture*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Diabetes Mellitus / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mexican Americans*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations*