Bilingual Health Care

1 decade 1 year 4 weeks ago Monday, November 13 2006 Nov 13, 2006 Monday, November 13, 2006 7:45:39 AM CST November 13, 2006 in News

As of 2006, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than the rest of the world combined. Meaning it's just a matter of time before every nurse and doctor will encounter a patient needing their help, though both a medical condition-- and a language barrier.

Medical Spanish instructor Judy Elliott isn't just teaching these students Spanish vocabulary. 

"My main concern is this class should be communicative. Doctors and nurses aren't going to be going to their grammar books and conjugating the verb for the patient," said Elliott. "They're going to be saying,  'Donde le Duele?' 'Where does it hurt?,'" Elliott said.

Mizzou medical and nursing students as well as local RNs are learning Spanish. The class has been available for a few years, but this semester enrollment boomed, with nearly 90 signing up. 

"The one thing we in the U.S. and the Canadians need to do, was we needed to learn Spanish. The Mexican students were already enrolled in English as a second language in their universities," said associate professor of nursing Alice Kuehn.

And it's not just the task of learning to speak and understand another language, when you're dealing with different cultural ideas of health, it means you have to process much more than just what they're saying.

MU Health care language services coordinator, Grace Vega said, "Most of us don't think about drinking a cold drink when we're sick. In most cultures that's a no-no," Vega said. "You don't take frozen Pedialite pops and give them to your child when they've got a head cold. That's going to make them sicker. In most countries that's the understanding, it's the balance between hot and cold."

Elliott explained "You not only learn the language but you learn the culture as well. For example, I work as an interpreter for the hospital as well and a mother came in the other day with this, it's a little bracelet to keep the evil eye away from her baby, no one can cast a spell on her baby. Doctors and nurses need to know something about the culture so they're more understanding of the patients."


And with the Hispanic immigrant community growing faster than any other in Missouri, teachers like Judy Elliott hope the doctors and nurses of tomorrow will not only have learned how to walk the walk, but to also talk the talk.

The grant funding the Spanish for medical purposes class runs out in February.

Organizers are hoping it's renewed, or made a permanent part of the nursing curriculum.

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