The 'exotic other' in medical curricula: Rethinking cultural diversity in course manuals

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Introduction: Implementation of cultural diversity training in medical education faces challenges, including ambiguity about the interpretation of 'cultural diversity'. This is worrisome as research has demonstrated that the interpretation employed matters greatly to practices and people concerned. This study therefore explored the construction of cultural diversity in medical curricula. Methods: Using a constructivist approach we performed a content analysis of course materials of three purposefully selected undergraduate curricula in the Netherlands. Via open coding we looked for text references that identified differences labelled in terms of culture. Iteratively, we developed themes from the text fragments. Results: We identified four mechanisms, showing together that culture is unconsciously constructed as something or someone exotic, deviant from the standard Dutch or Western patient or disease, and therefore problematic. Conclusions: We complemented earlier identified mechanisms of othering and stereotyping by showing how these mechanisms are embedded in educational materials themselves and reinforce each other. We argue that the embedded notion of 'problematic stranger' can lead to a lack of tools for taking appropriate medical action and to insecurity among doctors. This study suggests that integrating more attention to biological and contextual differences in the entire medical curriculum and leaving out static references such as ethnicity and nationality, can enhance quality of medical training and care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)791-798
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2020


  • Cultural diversity
  • medical curriculum
  • ethnicity
  • constructivism
  • course material
  • I SAY
  • BIAS

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