Jelena Todic, Barnes-Jewish manager of education, quality and research (center), and graduate students Cheryl Winter (left) and Joyce West.

The Barnes-Jewish Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence was established in 2006, with the goal of creating an inclusive health care environment for all and reducing health disparities in the St. Louis community. The center is also helping to educate the community to understand the significance of cultural competence and the impact it can have on health outcomes.

Jelena Todic, Barnes-Jewish Hospital manager of education, quality and research, is a field instructor for the collaborative practicum placement between the University of Missouri- St. Louis, St. Louis University and Washington University Brown School of Social Work. Each year, the hospital offers a practicum for up to two graduate social work and public health students. The practicum students learn about health literacy, cultural competence and strategies for creating an equitable health care organization.

“Being culturally competent health care providers means that we are able to provide positive outcomes for all of our patients regardless of their backgrounds and levels of health literacy. Training social work and public health professionals is one way of ensuring that others have skills and knowledge needed to work toward health equity for all communities,” says Todic.

Joyce West and Cheryl Winter, graduate students from St. Louis University and Washington University Brown School of Social Work respectively, were practicum students at the hospital in 2011. West is working on her master’s in social work, and Winter is pursing a dual master’s in social work and public health.

“I thought that as a member of a minority, as an African- American woman, I was automatically culturally competent. That was not the case,” says West. “During the two semesters that I trained with the center, I became aware of my own biases, which may not have been negative but caused an uneasiness that I didn’t recognize. Now, I feel that I can accept the differences in others and truly respect and appreciate them.”

West is a national trainer with Parents As Teachers. She serves 11 tribal schools across the country. Locally, she is working to reduce the infant mortality rate in St. Louis, which is one of the highest in the country. “With my new knowledge and skills, I feel I can impact these numbers in a positive way,” says West.

Winter, a fellow at the Missouri Foundation for Health, spent three weeks with Todic last summer. She helped draft the curriculum manual for cultural competence, an 18-hour course currently offered at Barnes-Jewish Hospital that could be implemented at other hospitals. “Even though it was short, it was the best practicum I’ve ever had because it helped me develop professionally and it was also helpful to the hospital,” says Winter.

Since joining Barnes-Jewish in 2009, Todic has trained five students usually for a minimum of one semester. “It’s wonderful to see the program extend beyond the hospital because there are many applications in which cultural competency can improve the health of our communities,” says Todic.

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