Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Steven Black

Second Advisor

Dr. Kathryn A. Kozaitis

Third Advisor

Dr. Cassandra White


Cultural competence has been adopted and required in medical school education to address health disparities, though there is no standard curriculum. This thesis examines theoretical frameworks of cultural competence and its application through an ethnographic study of three practicing physicians and one medical student in the greater Atlanta area. Two of the participants attended medical school before the implementation of this requirement and were unfamiliar with the concept. Methods included semi-structured interviews and participant observation through focal follows, or shadowing, physicians. Questionnaires assessed patients’ opinions of provider efforts. Findings investigated if and how distinct models of culture enter into doctors’ consultation and decision-making processes, considered the feasibility of incorporating cultural competence practices given structural constraints, and identified doctors’ recommendations for learning about culture. Recommendations are offered to improve cultural competence at the institutional and interpersonal level, including expanding existing elements of appointments and structural changes to facilitate time with patients.