Good language skills make good medicine

Lynne Kozarek

Surgical lasers can’t cut through the growing language barrier in medicine. But one University student might have the solution to the problem of hospital patients in the United States who don’t speak English: better-informed doctors.
Caryn Kendra, a second-year medical student, is developing a course entitled Medical Spanish for Medical Students to educate physicians and medical students in Spanish language and Hispanic culture.
With the aid of grants totaling $2,500, in January or February Kendra will be able to start the course.
“I thought there was a need for this to be taught,” she said. “We will teach people how to work with translators, and offer cultural seminars.”
The course will be team-taught by University physicians and speakers from the Hispanic community. The course will be taught one night a week for eight weeks.
The course will be offered without academic credit, but it will count toward some graduation requirements in the Medical School.
Kendra said students will also be taught how to ask some simple yes-and-no questions in Spanish.
Coca Cola donated $1,000 to fund the course and graduate student organizations, such as the Graduate And Professional Student Assembly, which donated $250, gave the rest.
Bruce Bromberek, president of GAPSA, said his organization likes to provide start-up money for projects that will continue into the future.
“We thought this was a great idea,” he said. “Doctors should have this. We recognize the role this can play in the larger community.”
Bromberek also said that this is the first time GAPSA has funded an academic course.
Kendra said she recognized the community need for a medical Spanish course and since April has spearheaded the project.
“This is a lot of work and it is exhausting,” she said. “But being a good physician isn’t exclusively mastery of the sciences; it is also an understanding of the patients and reaching out to them.”
Dr. Helene Horwitz, associate dean for student affairs in the Medical School, said that there were a number of students interested in international medicine or working with Spanish-speaking populations.
“This course will promote additional understanding and sensitivity,” she said.
Kendra said the growing Hispanic population in the United States inspired her to create the class.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Hispanics make up 10.6 percent of the U.S. population. The government predicts that by 2050 24.5 percent of the country’s population will be Hispanic.
Kendra hopes someday to work with inner-city immigrants in Spanish-speaking communities, but until then she is content to make her mark on the University and its Hispanic medical patients.
“In order to treat a patient one must have an understanding,” she said. “There is a lot more to the delivery of health care than sticking a Band-Aid on someone.”