Exploring dental students' perceptions of cultural competence and social responsibility

Richard W Rubin, Luis O Rustveld, Robert J Weyant, John M Close
Journal of Dental Education 2008, 72 (10): 1114-21
The improvement of basic cultural competency skills and the creation of a greater community-minded spirit among dental students are important parts of dental education. The purpose of our study was to assess changes in dental students' attitudes and beliefs about community service and changes in cultural competencies after participation in a two-year program of non-dental community service (Student Community Outreach Program and Education, SCOPE). During 2003-07, two identical twenty-eight-item surveys were administered to SCOPE participants/completers. In the first, students reported on their attitudes after program completion. In the second, students reported retrospectively on their attitudes prior to starting the program. One hundred twenty-six post- and pre-intervention surveys were matched and assessed for changes in student attitudes after program participation. Based on factor analysis, four distinct scales were identified: 1) community service, 2) cultural competence, 3) communication, and 4) treatment perspective. Over time, statistically significant changes (p<.05) in student attitudes and beliefs were found for scales 1 (p=.017), 2 (p=.001), and 3 (borderline significance, p=.057). Scale 4 showed no significant difference (p=.108). These scales indicate main focus areas to help guide future dentists in acquiring relevant sociocultural competencies and enabling community-minded attitudes. Overall, this study provides support for the addition of a non-dental community service-learning program into the preclinical curriculum.

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