In response to the Liaison Committee on Medical Education mandate that medical education must address both the needs of an increasingly diverse society and disparities in health care, medical schools have implemented a wide variety of programs in cultural competency. The authors critically analyze the concept of cultural competency and propose that multicultural education must go beyond the traditional notions of "competency" (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attitudes). It must involve the fostering of a critical awareness--a critical consciousness--of the self, others, and the world and a commitment to addressing issues of societal relevance in health care. They describe critical consciousness and posit that it is different from, albeit complementary to, critical thinking, and suggest that both are essential in the training of physicians. The authors also propose that the object of knowledge involved in critical consciousness and in learning about areas of medicine with social relevance--multicultural education, professionalism, medical ethics, etc.--is fundamentally different from that acquired in the biomedical sciences. They discuss how aspects of multicultural education are addressed at the University of Michigan Medical School. Central to the fostering of critical consciousness are engaging dialogue in a safe environment, a change in the traditional relationship between teachers and students, faculty development, and critical assessment of individual development and programmatic goals. Such an orientation will lead to the training of physicians equally skilled in the biomedical aspects of medicine and in the role medicine plays in ensuring social justice and meeting human needs.