Why We Teach Medical Spanish
Every time I promote anything “Medical Spanish”, whether it’s local courses, online courses, immersion trips, free lessons, etc – literally ANYTHING – I ruffle the feathers of a small percentage of the people who have received the promotion.
It’s like clockwork – I can expect that within 24 hours of starting a promotion, someone will respond to me via phone or social media with their disapproval. So, I thought I’d explain myself…
The standard response is usually some variation of: “Why do I have to learn Spanish – people should speak English if they’re living here”. If the comments are respectful, I usually engage. If they’re not, I tend to just ignore them. As I write this post, I’m in another promotion cycle and starting to feel a little distracted by some comments.
One one hand, I get the frustration. You don’t have to be a cultural anthropologist to see how a common language is one of the cornerstones of a society. Without a common language, it’s tough to establish any sort of group identity, shared traditions & common values. Furthermore, the expectation that if you reside somewhere you should probably make some efforts to speak the language isn’t unreasonable either. I’ll admit that it’s puzzling to meet people who have lived in the USA for decades and who have invested (what seems like) zero effort in integrating. Maybe they have and failed, or maybe they were never able to for a variety of socioeconomic reasons.
But let’s be honest, if I get frustrated at the ex-patriot who lives in Costa Rica and doesn’t speak Spanish or at the fanny-pack-wearing tourist in France who just speaks English louder instead of preparing with some French lessons before his trip, I would be disingenuous if I thought that immigrants here in the USA shouldn’t make an effort to learn English. I do believe that if you are living here, you have some responsibility to integrate – that seems logical to me. Not only that, but a command of English can help people improve their own quality of life. In short, I don’t think there is anything wrong, evil or racist about the expectation that one should speak the language of the area where one resides.
But on the other hand, there is another aspect of people’s frustration to my promotions that I don’t understand.
First of all, the fact that I’m promoting free medical Spanish lessons, or an amazing international rotation for healthcare students in Nicaragua and Costa Rica doesn’t mean that I’m saying YOU have to participate! An advertisement that comes across your feed or shows up in your inbox does not mean that you’re obliged in any way, it’s a promotion! That would be like me making a stink over an advertisement for traveling to Las Vegas, or for purchasing a Hyundai (nothing against Vegas or Hyundai – they’re just not my style). Since I’m not interested, I write it off as digital “noise” and go along my merry way. I wouldn’t take offense, nor would I feel the need to push my views – even if I thought Las Vegas was a bad idea for married guys like me, or if I thought that there were better and safer vehicle options for families.
So, on this level I don’t understand people’s frustrations…maybe they just want to be heard. I hear you, and I’m responding respectfully!
But the real question that I want to answer in this post is “Why?”. Why do we teach medical Spanish instead of assuming that others will consume their health services in English? Here are some answers that at least give you some insight into my world:
- Healthcare professionals and students request it. We get calls, emails and other inquiries from the healthcare community wondering what resources, courses and trips might be available to them to help them with their Spanish. They feel the frustrations of waiting for interpreter availability, know that choppy communication via interpreter phones is less than adequate, and want to do what they can to speed up care and improve rapport with their patients. There is a need. We didn’t create the need. We’re responding to it with a reasonable solution that our clients like.
- Studies show that delivering care in the patient’s language improves outcomes. Patients are able to communicate their experience more clearly to providers. Patients are able to understand their problem more completely. The result is that patients adhere more closely to their treatment plan and have better health outcomes. Big surprise, right? Most would argue that this what healthcare is all about – helping people get better. Voluntarily learning Spanish in order to speak it responsibly with patients isn’t political, it’s a legitimate step in improving patient care.
- Federal law requires patient care in the patient’s native language. It’s called Title IV. Here is a summary of that federal law that requires all healthcare facilities (that receive financial assistance from the Federal Government) to provide patient care in the patient’s language. “Financial assistance” includes grants, equipment, training, etc. and extends to any institution receiving funds from HHS. Qualified staff and contracted interpreting services (vs using family members and unqualified ad-hoc interpreters) satisfy Title IV requirements. Our role in helping the healthcare community speak responsible Spanish also satisfies Title IV requirements. If the Joint Commission has a review scheduled at your institution, you can bet that your C-level administrators and VPs are addressing language access.
- We’re good at teaching medical Spanish, and we like doing it. We’re a small family-run business that is committed to impacting communities through language. We work with anyone looking for document translations, high school students, undergrad & grad students, and professionals. Medical Spanish brings tangible benefits to an underserved population that we empathize with and want to contribute to. We are well-educated people, motivated to do what we want, and capable of creating something out of nothing. We started Common Ground International in the basement of our first home in 2000, and this is how we choose to continue using our skills & passions to provide for our family and serve our community at the same time. Who knows if any of our three bilingual children will continue this project on in the future. Maybe not, so far one wants to be an ichthyologist, another a professional athlete, and our baby a veterinarian. At least for now we employ a small group of amazing individuals and we have fun with our career. We are 100% funded by our clients. We receive no grants or government assistance. The “American Dream” is alive and well. If you’re not living it, make a plan and give it a shot!