Diversity grant to fund study of med students’ cultural skills

A new diversity seed grant aims to help UMMS leaders study the cross-cultural acumen of students engaged domestically or internationally in low-resource settings.

Brent Williams, MD, Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the GHD Path of Excellence Program, will co-lead a University-sponsored study to measure the cross-cultural acumen of medical students participating in electives in low-resource settings.

Global Health & Disparities (GHD) Path leaders, in collaboration with Global REACH, recently garnered the award from the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID), part of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. The grant will fund a baseline study to measure students’ cross-cultural skills as GHD program leaders prepare to launch a new cultural sensitivities training program early next year.

Many UMMS students – and nearly all GHD Path students – engage in low-resource settings domestically and around the world, encountering people from many different cultures or backgrounds.

“Making sure that our students have the tools and skills to represent themselves and our institution well during these experiences is a charge we take very seriously,” said Professor of Internal Medicine and GHD Director Brent Williams. “This award and project will help us ensure that we are adequately preparing our students to productively communicate across cultures – both in the near term as learners and as practicing physicians later on.”

GHD, the Medical School’s first-established and largest Path of Excellence program, has graduated more than 70 students to date, and nearly all experience extensive clinical rotations and/or research experiences in low-resource settings. Some students focus on health disparities close to home, while others travel abroad to places like Ghana, Sri Lanka, India and more. In the last three years, Global REACH has funded a dozen educational experiences for GHD M4 students across nine countries.

While cross-cultural sensitivity concepts have always been present in various aspects of the GHD curriculum, program leaders plan to roll out formalized training next spring aimed at all students preparing for off-campus experiences in low-resource settings. Ahead of that training, the $3,000 award will help fund a quantitative baseline study of the students’ cultural acumen, along with qualitative surveys of students returning from experiences in low-resource settings to guide the training development and implementation.

“GHD is a natural home for a project like this, because the program sits at this intersection where medical education meets important societal diversity concepts,” said Assistant Professor of OB-GYN and longtime GHD faculty advisor Jason Bell, a co-PI on the project. “Part of our mission is to prepare all future physicians to practice in an increasingly diverse world. I’m confident our medical students and our faculty mentors alike will benefit this project.”

The award was one of several announced in May as part of a new a Grant to Support Research and Scholarship for Change program to support and bolster diversity efforts, conversations and innovations across the University of Michigan community. Nine proposals in all received NCID funding, including projects from colleagues in Public Health, Social Work and Psychology.

“Given our mission, this grant opportunity seeks to identify innovative and cutting-edge research, bridge research with engagement and/or translational work, and promote research that will contribute to national conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion,” said NCID Director Tabbye Chavous. “We were impressed with the value of each proposal, and we very much hope that the awards will help to forward the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion locally and nationally.”