Decolonising medical curricula through diversity education: lessons from students

Med Teach. 2015 Apr;37(4):385-93. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2014.947938. Epub 2014 Aug 26.


Introduction: The General Medical Council (GMC) expects that medical students graduate with an awareness of how the diversity of the patient population may affect health outcomes and behaviours. However, little guidance has been provided on how to incorporate diversity teaching into medical school curricula. Research highlights the existence of two different models within medical education: cultural competency and cultural humility. The Southampton medical curriculum includes both models in its diversity teaching, but little was known about which model was dominant or about the students' experience.

Methods: Fifteen semi-structured, in-depth interviews were carried out with medical students at the University of Southampton. Data were analysed thematically using elements of grounded theory and constant comparison.

Results: Students identified early examples of diversity teaching consistent with a cultural humility approach. In later years, the limited diversity teaching recognised by students generally adopted a cultural competency approach. Students tended to perceive diversity as something that creates problems for healthcare professionals due to patients' perceived differences. They also reported witnessing a number of questionable practices related to diversity issues that they felt unable to challenge. The dissonance created by differences in the largely lecture based and the clinical environments left students confused and doubting the value of cultural humility in a clinical context.

Conclusions: Staff training on diversity issues is required to encourage institutional buy-in and establish consistent educational and clinical environments. By tackling cultural diversity within the context of patient-centred care, cultural humility, the approach students valued most, would become the default model. Reflective practice and the development of a critical consciousness are crucial in the improvement of cultural diversity training and thus should be facilitated and encouraged. Educators can adopt a bidirectional mode of teaching and work with students to decolonise medical curricula and improve medical practice.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Awareness
  • Cultural Competency / education*
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Plant Proteins
  • Problem Solving
  • Students, Medical / psychology


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Knox4 protein, Zea mays
  • Plant Proteins