Learning and adaptation with regard to complementary medicine in a foreign context: Intercultural experiences of medical students from different cultural backgrounds

Kate Templeman, Anske Robinson, Lisa McKenna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Little is known about challenges and transition that medical students from different cultural backgrounds face with regard to complementary medicine (CM). This paper explores such students’ experiences and perspectives of socio-cultural and academic difference with regard to CM and experiences of intercultural relations. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, 30 in-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with medical students across 10 Australian medical schools. The data were rigorously analysed through a systematic process of coding, categorisation and theoretical development. The findings indicate that students adapted considerably to the host culture. Students with Western backgrounds integrated better socio-culturally and academically compared to students with non-Western backgrounds. Although nationality represented cultural identity, students’ construction of cultural difference was informed by their perception of diverging value systems within the specific educational environment. These values were, in turn, reflected in students’ reported behaviours, attitudes, and levels of engagement in socio-cultural and academic aspects of university life. Adaptation employed by students was evidenced largely due to their conflicting sense of responsibility towards familial culture regarding CM and focus on fitting in. While students’ tendency to gravitate towards cultural peers was evident, most students adapted to their host environment regarding CM to fit into normal intercultural encounters during medical school. In conclusion, students’ intercultural contact with regard to CM was both complex and problematic. At a time of significant diversification within the higher education student body, this paper highlights the role medical education institutions can play in fostering intercultural and academic guidance and support.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-65
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Complementary medicine
  • Cultural adaptation
  • Intercultural relations
  • International medical students
  • Medical education

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