By the time they reach their second year of graduate school, students of speech-language pathology are well into the process of developing a professional identity and have been exposed to academic and clinical experiences designed to develop their cultural competence. This grounded theory study was designed to investigate how students perceive their professional identities and how they perceive the concept of cultural competence. The results of this study indicate students are learning the knowledge programs are designed to teach them, but current practices may be limiting. Students understand the importance of culturally competent care, but they tend to narrow their concepts of cultural competence to facts and characteristics of cultural groups they see as other than themselves.
The conclusions from this research encourage the development of cultural competence and professional identity through a process of examining interactive cultural relationships. Within this approach instruction and clinical experiences would involve a consistent recognition that each interaction is a relationship and each interaction involves the coming together of cultures. Helping students recognize the cultural relationship in every interaction allows them to develop their cultural competence and professional identities regardless of the demographics of their geographical placement and will provide them with the skills to adapt and meet the needs of each client and cultural group. Finally, this approach can shift the discourse of the profession away from the concept of how other cultures are different from the norm to one that considers all forms of similarities and differences in the provider-client relationship.