Cultural Sensitivity Scholars Program

An Online Learning Community and Course (October 2015 – April 2016)

Program Overview

AMSA recognizes that the structure of the modern healthcare system carries with it inevitable disparities in health. These systemic challenges and power dynamics can significantly influence the interpersonal relationship between the physician and patient, and if left unaddressed can negatively impact quality of care. The principles of sociology and medical anthropology related to cultural groupings, stereotypes, bias, and dominant group privilege all must be overcome in the medical community. Training in cultural sensitivity is at the very heart of this.

Cultural competence is a key objective in medical education; however, we challenge students to acknowledge that achieving cultural competence implies that there is an end point. Unfortunately, no physician or institution can reasonably hope to be fully competent, aware, and anticipatory of all cultures and the needs of every distinct social group. In truth, appreciating and effectively responding to others’ differences, striving to dissolve personal bias, acquiring cultural knowledge, and maintaining an open and relative perspective are all works in eternal progress.

Our hope at AMSA with the Cultural Sensitivity Scholars Program, then, is to encourage students to shift their goals from being just culturally competent to being continually adaptive and responsive, and hence culturally sensitive. This means that cultural sensitivity is an attitude of humility and an approach to interpersonal communication that requires unrelenting self-awareness and perspective checking.

Tentative Curriculum

Our curriculum takes a broadened approach to social grouping systems, and uses vignettes that may include race, ethnicity, culture, age, sex, gender, religion, language, and many other social categorizers. It is designed to have students begin evaluating the interpersonal relationship challenges that arise as a person is placed into one or more social groupings and ascribed the characteristics of those groups, and then cultivates skills in individual perspective checking. The following topics will be discussed, although not necessarily in this order:

  • Introduction to social groups and implicit bias in healthcare
  • Medical mistrust across patient populations
  • Understanding stigma in addiction and mental health
  • Health literacy, medical interpreters, and language services
  • Adapting to challenges with rural and underserved patients
  • Sensitivity in the gender spectrum

Each month of the program will address one of these topics through the following modalities: 1) Assigned readings, cases, or short video segments, 2) A small group discussion, and 3) A didactic session with an expert on the topic. Students will also be expected to participate in two reflective writing assignments that address themes in the program, and are invited to submit writings to AMSA’s publication, The New Physician.

Scholars are required to create a final project to apply what they have learned in the program to their existing extracurricular involvements, community and local chapter engagements, advocacy projects, or with experiential learning and immersion experiences. Final projects can be presented at the AMSA National Convention and posted on the AMSA website.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the program, students should be able to:


  • Recognize and manage the impact of bias, class, and power on the clinical encounter.
  • Demonstrate respect and relativism for a patient’s cultural and health beliefs.
  • Acknowledge personal biases, stereotypes, and stigmas and the potential impact they have on the quality of healthcare.


  • Describe the difference in cultural competence and cultural sensitivity.
  • Understand the principles of broad social grouping systems relevant to patient populations.
  • Identify circumstances of contextual privilege in social groups and the roots of bias, stereotypes, and stigmas.
  • Demonstrate awareness for diverse health beliefs and challenges experienced by patients.
  • Define health literacy, language services, and appropriate protocols for working with interpreters.


  • Identify interpersonal communication and therapeutic relationship challenges for patient groups.
  • Apply models of cross-cultural communication in the clinical setting.
  • Self-evaluate and perspective check schemas and generalizations ascribed to patient groups.
  • Understand effective use of medical interpreters.
Tentative Schedule and Expectations

In order for a participant to effectively learn and incorporate the skills presented in this program, it is crucial that each participant is present for all aspects of the program. Each participant is expected to attend all the one-hour didactic sessions, complete the mandatory assigned readings and independent learning modalities, participate in the hour-long small group sessions, and submit two well-written reflections. In total, we expect that each month will typically require roughly six hours of work per month.

The Cultural Sensitivity Scholars Program will run from October to April, each month with a corresponding topic. Each month will have two interactive sessions with the following schedule:

  • Session One: Guided small group discussions of major points in assigned readings, videos and other independent learning modalities.
  • Session Two: A didactic session with a content expert on the month’s theme. Session One’s readings and discussion should prepare students to be actively engaged with the speaker to contribute thoughtful and meaningful interactions.
  • Writing Assignments: Two reflective writing assignments will be expected, one in December and one toward the conclusion of the program. These writing assignments are designed to have students evaluate their current educational and extracurricular involvements and identify experiences to which the principles learned in the program may be applied. Students will synthesize and develop an editorial analysis that encourages thoughtful introspection and self-evaluation of attitudes. Students will have the opportunity to submit writing assignments to the AMSA publication The New Physician.

A final project is mandatory. Project ideas are very flexible and should be discussed with the Cultural Sensitivity Coordinator. Examples include chapter projects in health fairs for special patient populations, social advocacy initiatives, community engagement opportunities with local organizations, or immersion experiences with a clinical preceptor. Photos, blogs, or other participant activities with final projects will be featured on AMSA social media, and projects may be presented at the AMSA National Convention. All participants are also encouraged to attend the AMSA National Convention, but this is not a required expectation.

Session Schedule

*All session are held from 7-8:30 PM est

Date Session Title
10/15/2015 Intro to Social Groups and Bias
11/19/2015 Medical Mistrust
12/17/2015 Sensitivity in Gender Spectrum
1/21/2016 Rural and Underserved Patients
2/18/2016 Health Literacy and Interpreters
3/17/2016 Stigma in Mental Health and Addiction


 Program Registration Fees
AMSA Student Member $40
Non-Member $140*

* Non-member fee includes AMSA membership, if applicable

For More Information, Contact

Alison Case, MD, Education and Advocacy Fellow, AMSA
Daniel Gouger, Scholars Program Coordinator