The course helps University of Iowa doctors communicate with patients who speak Spanish | Wbactive

Jessica Ortiz helps a colleague pronounce a word in Spanish as she teaches some Spanish conversation and medical terms in Spanish during a language class via conference call November 10 from her home in Coralville. Ortiz says that just knowing a basic knowledge of medical terminology in Spanish and making the effort to connect with Spanish-speaking patients helps reduce their anxiety. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Speaking another language in a healthcare facility can not only prevent patients from communicating pain or prevent doctors from relaying important medical news or directions — it can deter people from even seeking help.

Jessica Ortiz saw it firsthand in her Ecuadorian parents, who aren’t fluent in English.

“Sometimes they’re like, ‘Oh no, I’m not comfortable, maybe they don’t understand what I’m saying,'” said Ortiz, from Coralville, noting that even making an appointment can become an insurmountable challenge. “So they need help.”

Luckily, her parents can get that help from her daughter — who has a medical degree and is fluent in English. Like last year, when her mother sprained her ankle and needed emergency medical attention.

“I had to be there all the time,” she says. “To translate what the vendor said.”

Spanish idioms and their English translation are seen as Jessica Ortiz teaches a colleague some Spanish conversation and medical terminology in Spanish during a language class via conference call from her home in Coralville. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Spanish idioms and their English translation are seen as Jessica Ortiz teaches a colleague some Spanish conversation and medical terminology in Spanish during a language class via conference call from her home in Coralville. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

But because children so often act as translators for non-fluent parents, the message doesn’t always get through. “Sometimes parents feel embarrassed to tell the child something really private that the child needs to tell the provider,” Ortiz said.

This can have significant implications and limitations. But something as simple as a “hola” or “como estas” from a doctor can change everything, according to Ortiz.

“You relax more,” she said. “They’re more like, OK, I can do this on my own, or the doctor is really going to take care of me.”

After volunteering for much of her 16 years in the United States—like sharing her language and culture with her daughter’s elementary school and with the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center—Ortiz saw a need that led her to the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine could help.

So she designed a medical school Spanish course with some proficiency in Spanish—similar to what she teaches at the senior center—but specifically aimed at those who need to communicate and understand medical information.

It does not teach grammar, syntax or general vocabulary.

“It’s very specifically designed for healthcare providers with intermediate to advanced levels of Spanish, so we can just focus on teaching medical Spanish terminology,” she said. “The topics are very specific.”

The university offered for the first time in the fall of 2021 the “Free Medical Spanish” course for faculty “with an intermediate to advanced level of Spanish”, which focused on teaching medical Spanish terminology, pronunciation and cultural practices and health beliefs unique to the Latino American community and Hispanic community apply.

“So we try to improve their cultural competence,” she said.

Course objectives include providing providers with the confidence to obtain a basic medical history from Spanish speaking patients and perform a full physical examination.

Other course objectives include teaching doctors Spanish medical terminology; how to translate basic anatomical terms to and from English; and ways to improve conversational skills during a medical interview with Spanish-speaking patients.

“The importance of this course is to build and maintain a trusting relationship between provider and patient and to provide the best possible patient care,” reads a course description distributed to medical school by UI’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Anxiety is a common emotion encountered by patients who are not fluent in English; Therefore, having a basic knowledge of Spanish medical terminology can eliminate the anxiety of Spanish-speaking patients.”

By developing cultural competence alongside language skills, Ortiz says UI vendors can ask the best questions in an empathetic way.

“It was something that really, really surprised us because we’ve had a lot of people reacting very positively to it,” she said.

The course, which begins in Fall 2021, has offered two cohorts per semester – meaning they’ve completed six in total so far, including Spring and Fall 2022. Each cohort is eight weeks, one hour a week – which is about what organizers can do in , while maintaining the doctor’s interest given their busy schedules.

“The challenge here is finding a time for vendors,” she said.

Since almost everyone takes a lunch break, the course is offered on Thursdays and Fridays at noon – two more cohorts are planned for the spring. Previously, each group consisted of eight to 10 faculty members, and Ortiz said there was a limit so everyone could ask questions and engage in dialogue.

Those who complete the course come from internal medicine, surgical departments, and specialties such as gastroenterology.

“They say they feel more confident and confident speaking,” Ortiz said, boasting about the use of mock interviews to build trust. “It’s a big deal.”

As Iowa’s changing demographics — with Lanitx’s population being the fastest-growing minority group and having nearly doubled in the last decade — the demand for bilingual medical services could increase. The US Census Bureau projects that Iowa’s minority population will increase from more than 400,000 in 2020 to nearly 800,000 in 2040.

“We’ve been approached by various medical schools — nurses and other healthcare providers — who want something similar,” she said. “So we’re exploring a different course.”

Jessica Ortiz teaches a colleague some conversational Spanish and medical terminology in Spanish during a language class via a conference call Nov. 10 from her home in Coralville. Ortiz says that just knowing a basic knowledge of medical terminology in Spanish and making the effort to connect with Spanish-speaking patients helps reduce their anxiety. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Leave a Comment