The following article is part of The Clinical Advisor’s coverage from the 2018 American Academy of Physician Assistants’ annual meeting in New Orleans. Our staff will be reporting live on original research, case studies, and professional outreach and advocacy news from leading PAs in many specialty areas. Check back for ongoing updates from AAPA 2018. 

NEW ORLEANS — Caucasian and first-year physician assistant (PA) students have lower levels of perceived cultural competence, and most students believe that they are moderately or well prepared to care for diverse patient populations, according to research presented at the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ (AAPA) 2018 conference.

Erin Sherer, EdD, PA-C, RD, from the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City, conducted a study to evaluate PA students’ knowledge, skills, encounters, attitudes, awareness, and abilities regarding cultural competence, as well as students’ evaluations of these components of their education. The study used an online cross-sectional questionnaire, which was administered to 239 PA students across 8 American professional preparation programs in higher education institutions.

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Findings showed that PA students rated their attitudes, awareness, and abilities about cultural competence as significantly greater than their knowledge, skills, and encounters (4.03, 3.92, 3.56 vs 2.57, 2.76, 2.56, respectively). Specific areas of identified perceived weaknesses in cultural competency education included:  knowledge regarding the cultural context of care; skills associated with managing cross-cultural clinical challenges; and encounters related to coping with aggressiveness and bias. Further analyses indicated that second-year students and non-Caucasian students reported higher personal ratings for levels of cultural competence.

Qualitative data provided insight to students’ levels of preparedness, indicating that most surveyed PA students believed that they were well prepared (39%) or moderately prepared (46%), in comparison to those who did not believe that they were at all prepared (15%). Students indicated that specific educational classes focusing on cultural topics, discussions about cultural issues, and clinical experiences were the most useful for promoting cross-cultural education.

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Future research may explore faculty perceptions regarding cultural competency training, examine whether faculty members believe they have the institutional support to provide this aspect of PA education, and identify areas for consensus on cultural competency curricula in PA education.

AAPA 2018 continues through Wednesday, May 23. Visit for more information.


Sherer E. Physician Assistant Students’ Perceptions of Cultural Competence in Providing Care to Diverse Populations. Presented at the American Academy of Physician Assistants 2018 Conference; May 19-23, 2018; New Orleans. Poster 125.