The introduction of a cultural competence curriculum as part of veterinary science studies has been put forward by a team at the University of Sydney.

The cultural competence curriculum, which is already in use at University of Sydney’s School of Veterinary Science, is of particular interest to Australia which has one of the highest rates of pet ownership and is also one of the most multicultural nations.

The world-first project, worked on by Associate Professor Jaime Gongora and colleagues, would see potential veterinarians look at different cultural perspectives when dealing with clients.

“Veterinarians work with culturally and linguistically diverse teams, clients, and communities. Despite this, there is little focus on this as a competency and in an educational setting. Cultural perspectives on animals and differences in communication, consultation and engagement protocols can influence relationships, impacting animal health, welfare, and research outcomes,” said Gongora.

A client’s background can impact the in which they view animals, whether that be as a source of companionship, food, entertainment, or religiously or culturally significant.

The project has been in progress since 2012, with a key component towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, with Aboriginal knowledge holders teaching students about the complexity of totems and skin names and how these relate to responsibility for animals.

Associate Professor and Project co-author, Sanaa Zaki, said unconscious bias is also addressed in the curriculum as well as effective communication styles towards different groups of people.

“Bringing awareness to students about unconscious bias and how this can impact their clinical decision making helps them develop empathy and respect for those that view animals differently and informs how they communicate with culturally diverse clients.”

Gongora said that informal feedback from students has revealed that the program has fostered rich discussions, respectful interactions, and an opportunity for growth through exposure to a diversity of ideas.

“What we have done since 2012 is develop a model framework for veterinary schools and other disciplines in animal science that seek to recognise that cultural competence is everyone’s business.”