Elective Courses: Medical Spanish Electives for Universities

Medical Spanish Elective Courses for Healthcare Programs: Longitudinal Curriculum

Mastering Medical Spanish Course
Common Ground International has been leading the field of healthcare-specific Spanish language training for professionals and students since its inception. Our mission — Impact Communities Through Language — has driven us to develop and deliver healthcare Spanish courses and Spanish training for teachers working with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students and families. CGI focuses on these two fields because healthcare and education are two contexts in which professionals have an opportunity to make a direct impact on the lives of individuals who are marginalized and underserved in our communities.

Since 2001 our medical Spanish elective courses have helped healthcare students speak responsible Spanish with their patients.

Speaking Spanish responsibly enough to connect with your patients is a practical skill in today’s healthcare environment.

Even if it’s just to establish a relationship and build rapport (and then invite professional interpreters to assist) the patient relationship and health outcomes improve as providers and staff speak more Spanish.

Unfortunately, many language departments on campus and interpreting staff in the hospital aren’t equipped to provide great medical Spanish elective courses

Teaching targeted medical Spanish electives is not usually the strength of most Spanish departments.

And interpreters who work at the hospital are usually fantastic linguists – but not necessarily skilled Spanish teachers.

Your students need professionally trained Spanish teachers with experience teaching medical Spanish.

medical spanish elective courses for universities and residency programs

Why Choose Common Ground for your Medical Spanish Elective?

We solved the curriculum problem:

Specialized language curriculum is difficult to develop.
The language department on campus (or the interpreting department at your hospital) probably doesn’t have a champion for your cause; and even if they do, there usually isn’t budget to allocate toward custom curriculum development.
We’ve been doing this so long, we know what curriculum works and we’re happy to customize to meet your needs.

We pioneered the perspective shift:

Your students & residents need Spanish elective courses that are targeted for their work with patients.
We call this “functional fluency” in Spanish.
The idea that you can learn professional language without knowing some ancillary basics is difficult for the traditional professor or highly skilled interpreter to grasp and truly embrace.
We know how to do it. It’s been our specialty since 2001.

We eliminate red tape obstacles:

For a reasonable guest lecturer or associate professor fee, we provide you with the syllabus, the asynchronous course content, and the live class sessions.
All you need to do is get course approval on your end, decide if you want it to be credit-bearing or not, and assign a course director for registration logistics.
We take care of the rest!

Elective Medical Spanish course offerings combine a few primary elements:

The great aspect of these semester courses is that you just need to get the courses approved through your curriculum committee. Once we get a MOU established, we take care of the rest!

We’ll do the day to day work like:

  1. Guide you through sorting your students into the appropriate levels
  2. Handle all student communications throughout the semester
  3. Facilitate the live classes
  4. Assess the students throughout the semester
  5. Submit final grades for you to record

15-week or 10-week courses

Fall and spring semesters can follow the regular 15-week course schedule or a reduced 10-week schedule.

Summer courses tend to be a bit shorter and stick to a 10-week course, but we’re flexible and happy to accommodate your schedule.

Evaluate and create your student groups

Every student comes to your program with a different level of Spanish experience. Some students will have very little exposure, others will have a lot of Spanish language background. We run your students through a placement test to sort them into levels and provide you with class group recommendations.

Asynchronous online learning

One of the many advantages of putting our curriculum online has been allowing students to learn on their own time and at their own pace throughout the week.

Students in our elective courses love the flexibility of learning the material on their own time, in their own space, and not having to attend a class on campus. Furthermore the 24/7 availability of course content allows for ample review and re-learning time.

Synchronous online classes

Great language courses are run like engaging science classes. It’s a combination of engaging learning and hands-on practice (lecture & lab).

In our medical Spanish elective courses, it’s asynchronous lessons and synchronous live classes.

You have to practice speaking in order to get comfortable speaking. The synchronous live class sessions are the cornerstone of our courses.

Longitudinal Medical Spanish Curriculum

Common Ground International offers a series of medical Spanish electives which, when combined create a strong longitudinal medical Spanish curriculum.

This Longitudinal medical Spanish curriculum begins with our signature 3-level course: “Mastering Medical Spanish” commonly referred to as MMS:

MMS Course Objectives:

Mastering Medical Spanish (MMS) gives healthcare students the practical Spanish language skills they need to communicate with their Spanish speaking patients quickly, concisely and in a responsible way that adheres to patients’ legal rights to receive care in their native language enumerated in Title VI. In addition to the essential Spanish required for clinical conversations, MMS students also learn how to build rapport with their Spanish speaking patients, learn about cultural norms common among Spanish speakers, and develop the language skills necessary to deliver patient-centered care in Spanish.

In a recent national survey (2021, J Gen Intern Med), the essential elements of effective medical Spanish curricula for medical students were outlined.[1]  These basic standards include: trained faculty educators; learner assessments; and awarding formal credit to students for course completion.  Our longitudinal curriculum meets these critical standards.  The article also highlighted the advantages of incorporating students as teachers and including active learning sessions with standardized patients. Student teachers and standardized patients are aspects of our longitudinal curriculum that we are happy to help you coordinate on a local level.

[1] Ortega P, Francone NO, Santos MP et al.  Medical Spanish in US Medical Schools: a National Survey to examine existing programs. J Gen Intern Med. 2021; 36(9): 2724-30.

MMS Course Design:

The primary instruction for MMS and practice sessions with CGI staff is online. The course is delivered in a hybrid (asynchronous and synchronous) format that allows students to work their way through the weekly lessons and quizzes at their own pace and then join the live (synchronous) online sessions to practice the Spanish they are learning in the lessons. The asynchronous lessons are the didactic component of the course, and the synchronous practice sessions are the teacher-led “lab” components of the course.  In addition to the asynchronous and synchronous components, all students are matched with a conversation partner (a classmate) and given conversational tasks to complete throughout the week that complement the week’s lesson objectives.

Should your institution like to implement in-person student-led and faculty-supported medical Spanish meetings and conversational classes, each topic of every lesson provides conversational prompts and targets vocabulary that would be perfect to support regular on-campus practice sessions.

Note:  CGI team will work with your faculty director, student leaders and other faculty advisors for the elective, to imbed key patient-centered communication skills taught to students in your curriculum. 

MMS Course Assessment:

Students take frequent quizzes throughout the course to track their learning. These quizzes can be pass/fail or graded, depending on your institution’s preferences.  Pass/Fail grades for the courses can also be based solely on participation if that is preferred. Upon successful completion of a level, students are prepared to continue on to the next level of MMS.  For example, depending on your Curriculum schedules, students might enroll in one level during the fall semester and advance to the next higher level in the spring semester.

MMS Course Schedule:

Mastering Medical Spanish is an 10-Lesson course with an initial Foundations lesson designed for students to review and ramp-up before beginning Lesson 1. MMS could be completed in as few as 11 weeks or spread out to a full semester length of 15 weeks.

The most common times of the year to run the MMS courses is in the fall and spring semesters. Summer semester offerings are also available.

MMS Course Progression:

Our Mastering Medical Spanish courses are designed to flow seamlessly from Beginning to Intermediate to Advanced levels. Students who start at the Beginning MMS level can progress in their medical Spanish over the course of 3 semesters or more as they work through their training.

MMS Course Levels:

Beginning MMS

This Beginning online Medical Spanish course helps you gain an initial functioning level of Medical Spanish that allows you to begin connecting with your patients and puts you on the path to working with them responsibly in Spanish. The asynchronous 30-45 min lessons are taught by Rory Foster, lead medical Spanish instructor. The 1-hr synchronous practice sessions are facilitated by Alexandra MacPhee. Here are the lessons included in this beginning online medical Spanish course:

  1. Meeting and greeting your patients through a culturally competent and patient-centered approach
  2. Understanding patient symptoms in Spanish, including symptoms relevant to culture-bound syndromes
  3. Present tense verbs in Spanish
  4. Anatomy in Spanish
  5. Patient medical history in Spanish
  6. Pain & injuries in Spanish
  7. Commands in Spanish
  8. Conducting physical exams in Spanish
  9. Describing tests and procedures in Spanish

Giving medication instructions and discussing next steps for care in Spanish

Intermediate MMS

This comprehensive Intermediate Online Medical Spanish course helps you gain a wide & deep functioning level of Medical Spanish that allows you to connect with your patients and work with them responsibly. In this course you will learn the Spanish you need from meeting and greeting your patient for the very first time to managing follow-up care. The asynchronous 30-45 min lessons are taught by Rory Foster, lead medical Spanish instructor. The 1hr synchronous practice sessions are facilitated by Stephanie Beltrán. Here are the lessons included in this online medical Spanish course:

  1. Building Rapport & Trust in Spanish through a culturally competent and patient-centered approach
  2. Understanding patient symptoms and anatomy terms in Spanish, including symptoms relevant to culture-bound syndromes
  3. Patient medical history in Spanish
  4. Pain & injuries in Spanish
  5. Past tense verbs in Spanish
  6. Conducting physical exams in Spanish
  7. Ordering tests and procedures in Spanish
  8. Discussing diagnosis, treatment plan and discharge instructions in Spanish
  9. Giving anticipatory guidance in Spanish

Patient-centered and culturally competent motivational interviewing in Spanish

Advanced MMS

This Advanced Online Medical Spanish course helps you refine your Spanish abilities into fluid & confident use of Medical Spanish for clinical work with your patients. You will learn the medical Spanish vocabulary you need, cultural insights to understand perspectives of your Spanish speaking populations, culture-bound syndromes, and advanced Spanish grammar topics to help you communicate subtleties in Spanish. The 30-45 min asynchronous lessons are taught by Rory Foster, lead medical Spanish instructor. The 1hr synchronous practice sessions are facilitated by Andrea Giganti. Here are the lessons included in this course:

  1. Building rapport & trust with your patients in Spanish and understanding the links between culture and health.
  2. Medical history and the history of the problem in Spanish
  3. The imperative (command) tense in Spanish for physical exams and other clinical instructions
  4. Essential vocabulary for symptoms, pain, anatomy and injuries in Spanish
  5. The present subjunctive in Spanish
  6. The past subjunctive in Spanish
  7. Uses of Por & Para in Spanish
  8. Uses of Se & Si in Spanish
  9. Communicating treatment plans and patient instructions in Spanish

Follow-up visits and well visits in Spanish

Additional Medical Spanish Elective Course options for students:

Clinical Medical Spanish Rotation:

Clinical placements with Spanish-speaking preceptors

This sort of elective is considered a rotation. Your experiential education coordinator would schedule students on this rotation in clinical placements in your community that give students a chance to work with Spanish speaking patients.

We also suggest that you consider assigning your students to 1/2 day shifts of shadowing hospital interpreters for additional Spanish exposure.

Asynchronous intermediate and advanced online learning

During the 4-week rotation, we open two lessons per week. These lessons contain 3-4 topics each, and will require at least 1/2 day to work through. At this intermediate and advanced level, we put heavy emphasis on precise clinical vocabulary, listening comprehension of native speakers, and more advanced grammar topics to support subtleties in communication.

On asynchronous lesson days, we suggest you only schedule your students for 1/2 day of clinic.

Synchronous conversational practice sessions

Conversational practice is essential for solidifying your students’ abilities to speak fluidly, comfortably and confidently.

We recommend 1.5 – 2hr synchronous practice sessions 3x/week. Sessions can be scheduled in the morning block or afternoon block.

On these synchronous practice session days, we recommend 1/2 day of clinic as well.

The Clinical Medical Spanish rotation was originally designed as an local immersion experience for 4th year Medical Students who were not able to travel on an international elective rotation.

It is a 4-week elective for 4th year medical students and PA and APN students in the clinical phases of their training who desire a near-immersion medical Spanish language experience.  To create this near-immersion experience in medical Spanish, the elective consists of: intensive classroom instruction in medical Spanish; a clinical sub-internship at local outpatient clinics; and a focused scholarly project. Students also spend time shadowing healthcare Spanish interpreters.

This course includes four key elements:
  1. Intensive hybrid instruction in Spanish, taught in a medical context;
  2. A sub-internship, consisting of supervised clinical care of Spanish-speaking patients at various outpatient clinics; 
  3. Shadowing local healthcare interpreters;
  4. A focused scholarly project and presentation, consisting of a 2-3 page paper, written in English or Spanish, describing a specific health disparity, an access-to-care problem, or another health-care related challenge or barrier that surfaced during the clinical component of the elective.

Medical Spanish Immersion Elective:

Elective Rotations for healthcare students. International Rotations in Costa Rica & Ecuador. A medical Spanish immersion rotation in your healthcare context.

Summer volcano and Spanish immersion for teens

Ecuador Medical Spanish Immersion Rotation

Based in Cuenca, Ecuador

1-2 weeks in length

  • 2nd half of June

  • Open to: APN, DO, DPT, MD, MPH, PA, PharmD, RN students

  • Host family, hotel, or hostel

  • 20hrs/week Spanish Classes

  • Tuesday – Thursday medical outreach projects

  • Collaborative Community Health Projects

  • CME & CE Accredited

  • Interprofessional mix of fellow travelers

  • 24/7 leadership, coordination & support by immersion program leaders

Ecuador & Costa Rica Spanish Immersion

Medical Spanish Immersion Rotation in Ecuador & Costa Rica

Medical Spanish immersion trip guiding principles
Based in Cuenca & Santo Domingo de Heredia

2 – 6 weeks in length

  • June start dates

  • Two countries in 1 trip

  • Open to: APN, DO, DPT, MD, MPH, PA, PharmD, RN students

  • Host family lodging included

  • 20hrs/week Spanish Classes

  • Tuesday – Thursday medical outreach projects

  • Collaborative Community Health Projects

  • CME & CE Accredited

  • Interprofessional mix of fellow travelers

  • 24/7 leadership, coordination & support by immersion program leaders most of the program

Pura Vida Spanish Immersion Programs are immersions in Costa Rica

Costa Rica Medical Spanish Immersion Rotation

Medical Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica
Based in Santo Domingo de Heredia

1 – 6 weeks in length

  • Every Jan/Feb & July

  • Open to: APN, DO, DPT, MD, MPH, PA, PharmD, RN students

  • Host family lodging included

  • 20hrs/week of Spanish classes

  • Tuesday – Thursday medical outreach projects

  • Collaborative Community Health Projects

  • CME & CE Accredited

  • Interprofessional mix of fellow travelers

  • 24/7 leadership, coordination & support by immersion program leaders most of the program

Medical Spanish Interpreter Training:

This online medical Spanish interpreter training course (MSI) is an excellent way for you to add responsible and ethical interpreting to your skillset as a bilingual healthcare worker. The eight lessons in this course span 8 calendar weeks and consist of a combination of asynchronous learning (on your own time) and synchronous (live) classes on Zoom.

MSI is not an interpreter certification course. Most people who take this course fit into one of the following categories:

  1. Are bilingual staff members of a clinic, hospital department, etc that are often asked to interpret on the job. 
  2. Have interest in becoming an professional interpreter, and looking for a great first step in their journey
  3. Are bilingual healthcare students wanting to improve their advanced level medical Spanish skills

Objectives of the Medical Spanish Interpreter Training course:

  • Learn and adhere to the professional standards of practice for interpreters in healthcare
  • Understand and adhere to the national code of ethics for interpreters in healthcare
  • Refine knowledge of medical terminology in English and Spanish
  • Gain familiarity with interpreting in healthcare and understand common errors and pitfalls while interpreting in medical settings

Specialty track courses:

Students in the clinical phases of their training have the option to enroll in month-long specialty track Spanish classes. These courses are mostly asynchronous but offer 2 synchronous practice sessions for students to have guided practice with Common Ground instructors. Each lesson in these courses also provides students with conversational practice scenarios for optional student-led practice sessions. The Specialty Track courses under consideration for development now are:

  • Primary Care (Internal Medicine and Family Medicine)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Surgery and surgical subspecialties.  
  • Other Specialty Track courses can be developed upon request.

Individual Medical Spanish Electives

We have electives for a variety of programs and specialties.


Healthcare Spanish classes for nurses and nursing students.

Scheduling has always been the most difficult aspect of implementing medical Spanish courses for our nursing program clients. But with the hybrid (asynchronous and synchronous) online course model, it’s a cinch!

Learn more about semester course options below


Spanish for pharmacists courses ensure that students communicate medication instructions clearly and provide relevant medication counseling in Spanish

We currently offer Beginning and intermediate Spanish for Pharmacists courses.

Learn more about semester course options below


Medical Spanish electives for Medical Students, PA students, and nurse practitioner students in all phases of training.

Whether you represent a Medical School, PA program, or APN program, we’re happy to work with you and offer you Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced level elective medical Spanish courses.

Learn more about semester course options and month-long rotation options below


Medical Spanish for residents and residency programs.

Elective courses for residents and residency programs can take several forms. We currently work with Family Practice residency programs and OB/GYN residency programs.

In order to meet the demands of residency schedules, we offer several flexible ways to learn:

Week – long intensives: during residency orientation week.

Monthly: lunch and learn classes or extended conversational courses.

10-week courses: throughout the year to boost speaking and comprehension skills.

International Electives

Travel and medical Spanish immersion is the best way to improve your Spanish.

Since we began offering international medical Spanish elective courses for healthcare students in 2003, no experience has been more effective than immersing students in Latin American culture and 24/7 Spanish language.

The rotation includes community health outreach and education projects, intensive Spanish classes & local host family lodging.

Learn more here

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