|The majority of the world’s population is bilingual; however, just 17% of the American population can speak a foreign language in addition to English. With a large Hispanic and Latinx population, the U.S. healthcare system has been unable to sufficiently treat a number of these patients.
Hispanic-Americans are 50% more likely to die from diabetes and liver disease than non-Hispanic whites, and are also predisposed to obesity and high blood pressure.
To better the care of Spanish-speaking patients, the University of Arizona will begin offering Spanish-language courses to its health sciences majors in spring 2017.
Dr. Francisco Moreno, physician and director of the UA Health Sciences-Hispanic Center of Excellence, hopes that this new program, in conjunction with the university’s Spanish and Portuguese Departments, will be able to assist students in their future professions when caring for individuals both locally and abroad.
“I truly believe it’s a major asset for those who have an interest in the health professions,” Moreno said. “To be able to speak a language so commonly spoken by individuals that have limited English proficiency in our region.”
By increasing future health providers’ Spanish literacy, UAHS-HCOE hopes to increase Hispanic representation in the medical field, as well as help patients better identify with their health care providers.
“I actually worked in a surgery center with my aunt when I was in high school,” said Christine Lamont, a sophomore public health and Spanish major. “She told me about how patients would come in and only be able to speak Spanish, and it was hard to tell them what was going on.”
Professor Malcolm Alan Compitello, head of the UA Spanish and Portuguese department, said that the curricula of these specialized Spanish courses are going to be similar to traditional intermediate 100- and 200-level courses, but with an emphasis on health science terms and applicable conversation.
The University of Arizona isn’t the only school to make Spanish courses a priority in its health studies departments.
Recently, the Rutgers School of Nursing – Camden received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s International and Foreign Language office. The grant is to be used to advance the Spanish language skills among both students and faculty.
“We need to train nurses to better communicate in the languages of wherever they work,” said Nancy Pontes, an assistant professor of nursing. “This needs to be broadened and become a standard of practice.”
Students in the Rutgers School of Nursing also plans to use the funding for a health study abroad program in Cuba, and to extend its health initiatives in Bolivia and Guatemala.
Compitello said that the UAHS-HCOE Spanish language course details are still being worked out with the Spanish and Portuguese Departments. As of right now, they are only being offered to students in the health science fields, but they will be able to count towards these students’ foreign language requirements.