SANTIAGO, Chile -- According to Spain’s nonprofit organization Instituto Cervantes, the U.S. now has the world’s second-largest population of Spanish speakers behind only Mexico. With a growing number of Spanish-speaking patients, hospitals and health clinics are facing an immediate and chronic shortage of bilingual physicians -- a serious problem in a field where lives can depend on an accurate exchange of information between doctor and patient, and where the use of interpreters raises privacy concerns.
“I find that a lot of patients don’t feel comfortable communicating with a provider that doesn’t speak Spanish because they don’t like to bring an interpreter into the room,” explained Dr. Victor Dominguez, family practice physician at the Centers for Family Health in Santa Paula, California. “There are privacy issues associated with that.”
In response to the need, hospitals and healthcare recruiting agencies nationwide are now actively recruiting bilingual physicians. Increasingly, if a hiring situation comes down to two equally qualified physician or physical therapy applicants, the one who speaks Spanish will be hired over the one who doesn’t.
Ecela Spanish, an immersive language-learning experience that combines South American travel with practical training and instruction, is taking a proactive approach to the problem with its health care shadowing programs for pre-health students. Combining Spanish language learning with valuable health care field exposure in real medical clinics, Ecela has just opened registration for its six-week summer 2016 Medical Spanish program in Chile, aimed at helping pre medical and pre-physical therapy students become bilingual in Spanish -- and more competitive in the job market.
From now until August 13, 2016, Medical Spanish program participants will live in Viña del Mar, Chile, shadowing physicians in Chilean medical clinics, participating in volunteer projects and becoming at least conversationally fluent in Spanish through cultural immersion and small-group classes that focus equally on grammar and conversational fluency. Additional medical Spanish instruction will give students exposure to medical-specific role-playing and vocabulary. Those who complete the Medical Spanish program receive six credits from Universidad Bolivariana, which can be transferred to their current transcripts or saved for graduate school requirements.
In addition, Ecela Medical Spanish students will have the opportunity to deepen their Spanish fluency through cultural experiences. Students may choose to live with Chilean host families for full immersion or in student housing with other program participants. Depending on their interests, students can learn how to make Chilean food, take salsa dance classes, spend a weekend touring Santiago, visit Chile’s mountains and lakes and tour Chile’s “walking museum,” nearby Valparaiso, Chile -- all in Spanish and all with other Ecela Medical Spanish students.
“The knowledge and experience I gained while shadowing […] were not only eye-opening but also increased my confidence both in speaking Spanish as well as working in a health-care environment,” said Tess Hansen, a Medical Spanish program alumna from University of Nebraska-Lincoln.