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J Dent Educ. 2013 Aug;77(8):982-9.

Dental students' reflections on their experiences with a diverse patient population.

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School of Dental Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, 2124 Cornell Road, Cleveland, OH 44106-4905, USA.


Recent developments, including national reports and new accreditation standards, have emphasized the need for dental students to be prepared to address the needs of a diverse patient population. The purpose of this study was to explore students' descriptions of and reflections on their day-to-day interactions with a diverse patient population in the clinical setting, using a qualitative approach. All dental students (sixty-six) enrolled in the third year of the D.M.D. program at a Midwestern dental school were required to write a paper reflecting on their experiences working with a diverse patient population in the general dental clinic of the school as part of a behavioral sciences course. All third-year dental students were invited to participate in the study. The students' papers were deidentified prior to data analysis. Forty-two students' papers describing a total of 126 patient-student interactions were reviewed. Data analysis resulted in identification of three key themes: 1) development of cultural awareness and recognition of the need to understand each patient as a unique individual, 2) desire to build rapport with all patients, and 3) realization that the development of cultural competence is a lifelong learning process requiring ongoing experiences working with a diverse patient population. Review of student reflection papers is valuable in providing faculty with an understanding of students' degree of development of cultural competence. A greater understanding of students' day-to-day experiences with a diverse patient population can provide insights for dental educators who develop cultural competence curricula.


behavioral sciences; cultural competence; dental education; dental students; diversity

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