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HEC Forum. 2012 Dec;24(4):279-91. doi: 10.1007/s10730-012-9200-2.

The promise and paradox of cultural competence.

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Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, Suite 2.104, Primary Care Pavilion, 301 University Boulevard, Galveston, TX 77555-1311, USA.


Cultural competence has become a ubiquitous and unquestioned aspect of professional formation in medicine. It has been linked to efforts to eliminate race-based health disparities and to train more compassionate and sensitive providers. In this article, I question whether the field of cultural competence lives up to its promise. I argue that it does not because it fails to grapple with the ways that race and racism work in U.S. society today. Unless we change our theoretical apparatus for dealing with diversity to one that more critically engages with the complexities of race, I suggest that unequal treatment and entrenched health disparities will remain. If the field of cultural competence incorporates the lessons of critical race scholarship, however, it would not only need to transform its theoretical foundation, it would also need to change its name.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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