Born in Ecuador and raised in Orlando, medical student Stephany Bustamante is her family’s translator, especially when it comes to communicating with healthcare providers. Even as a child, she accompanied her grandparents to the clinic because they couldn’t understand the doctor’s questions because the provider did not speak Spanish.
“I knew I wanted to do something about it,” says Bustamante.
And she has. Along with other members of the UCF College of Medicine’s Latino Medical Student Association, she is helping to organize events to make Spanish more accessible to physicians-in-training. The LMSA events include Spanish lunch hours, where students and faculty practice their conversational language skills, to more formal online instruction. In addition, the medical school is offering a variety of Spanish elective courses.
In Florida 24% of the population speaks Spanish as their native language. That’s 4.5 million people, yet in the healthcare system, physicians predominately speak English only.
Analia Castiglioni, a bilingual faculty physician at the College of Medicine, sees the problem first-hand. An internal medicine specialist, she leads the Clinical Skills and Simulation Center, cares for patients at the Orlando VA Medical Center, and is medical director of the college’s free Apopka Farmworkers Clinic, where many patients are Hispanic.
“In Kissimmee where the students do clinical rotations, 30-40% of patients are Spanish speakers,” she says. “So if you don’t speak the language, it’s harder to take care of them and they can be misdiagnosed. UCF has a 20% Spanish speaking student population and the medical students have shown a strong interest in becoming fluent in Spanish.”
Medical student Ana Carrazana volunteered on a medical mission trip to Ecuador before beginning medical school. As one of the few Spanish speakers on the trip, she saw the importance of communicating with patients in their own language.
“Even asking patients how was their day or how many kids they have in their own language eases the tension, it’s about making them comfortable,” she says,
She and Bustamante act as Spanish translators at the farmworker clinic and also the free student-run KNIGHTS Clinic at Grace Medical Home. They talk to patients about their medications, dosage and answer questions concerning their visit to put them at ease.
Medical student Kevin Ruiz’s family is from Bolivia and he has seen their language struggles when seeking medical care. That’s why he joined the LMSA effort. He helped promote a parallel Spanish elective for the Clinical Skills Center that educates students on how to conduct basic patient interviews and physical exams in Spanish. Ruiz helped translate the course material for the expanded hands-on learning.
A fourth-year elective course in Medical Spanish — that helps students translate medical terminology — attracts more than 60 learners each year. In addition, students can sign up for CanopyLearn, an online medical Spanish course that teaches them everything from how to greet patients in Spanish to asking questions about a variety of ailments including pain, gastrointestinal issues and heart problems. They learn at their own pace and have to take a three-hour exam after completing the course to receive credentials for medical Spanish proficiency. Last year, 12 students signed up for the course.
As Florida’s Hispanic population grows, so does the demand for Spanish-speaking physicians. UCF Health rheumatologist Marilyn Mosquera says there is a great need for Spanish-speaking physicians in her specialty, where providers are treating chronic conditions and need to establish long-term relationships with their patients.
“Patients feel very excited. They truly appreciate it when a physician speaks their own language even if the physician does not speak the language fluently,” says Mosquera, who is bilingual and was born in Columbia and did her fellowship training at UCF. “This also helps build better rapport with patients to be able to work together on their plan of care.”