Courses in medical Spanish now offered to train bilingual healthcare professionals
Posted: 02/05/2009
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To help bridge the language gap among patients and healthcare providers, The University of Texas-Pan American is now offering courses in medical Spanish.

According to Dr. Glenn Martinez, director of the Medical Spanish Project at UTPA, language barriers are responsible for missed diagnoses, medical errors, delayed treatment and unnecessary tests.

"Those barriers not only compromise the quality of care for limited English proficient patients, they also increase the cost of care for all Americans," Martinez said. "Given their previous background in the language, UTPA students are capable of quickly and effectively developing advanced language skills that will be useful in clinical settings."

The Medical Spanish Project consists of four courses which constitute a track or concentration within the regular Spanish minor.

"We hope to have a minor in medical Spanish approved before the end of the semester," he said. "Once approved, we will offer the nation's first academic minor in medical Spanish."

Martinez, who also serves as chair and associate professor of modern languages and literature, said the project addresses a national need in healthcare today.

Martinez said any student majoring in premedical, predental, nursing, pharmacy, social work, rehabilitation studies, communication disorders, and psychology would benefit from the courses.

"The courses would also be useful for students interested in pursuing public health from majors such as sociology, anthropology, and kinesiology and health education," he said. "We are also working with South Texas College to ensure that this program is available to health professionals at both the associates and baccalaureate levels."

Through the courses - Intermediate Spanish for Health Professions I and II; Advanced Spanish Composition for the Health Professions; and Sociolinguistics and Latino Health - students will learn about medical terminology for chronic illnesses, medical translation interpreting, patient interviewing skills, writing in Spanish for health purposes, as well as a capstone course about the threat of language barriers to public health.

"We want Nashville, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota to look to UTPA to recruit bilingual and bicultural doctors and nurses who will ensure that all people have access to quality healthcare," Martinez said.

The Medical Spanish Project is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE). FIPSE is a grant program intended to support innovative educational reform projects that can serve as national models for the improvement of postsecondary education.

"I think FIPSE was interested in our project because of its potential to produce impact not only as a model for language programs across the country but more importantly as a way to alleviate the increasing health disparities among non-English speaking persons in the United States," Martinez said.

For more information about the Medical Spanish Project or to enroll in the courses, contact Martinez at 956/381-3441 or via e-mail at