Student Committee Designs Medical Spanish Curriculum
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Student Committee Designs Medical Spanish Curriculum

October 6, 2020

Collage image of head shots of 19 PCOM Georgia medical and graduate students that formed the Medical Spanish Initiative Committee.The goal of the committee is to prepare future physicians with the communication skills and background education necessary to treat Spanish-speaking populations.

A strong believer in diversity and inclusivity, second year Biomedical Sciences student Jeisson Garcia (MS/Biomed ’21) experienced first-hand the language barrier that exists between many Spanish-speaking patients and their healthcare providers at a young age. Today, he is making strides to bridge the gap by bringing his idea of creating a novel medical Spanish curriculum to life.

Four part online lecture series

Beginning Saturday, October 10 at 11 a.m., a four-part Medical Spanish Lecture Series, brought to PCOM Georgia by the Medical Spanish Initiative Committee with the support of the campus’ Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, begins. The course covers such topics as Greetings and Salutations, Patient History, Review of Systems and Patient Commands.

The course series is offered to students, faculty, and staff members from new learners to native speakers. With lecture-style class time and small group practice opportunities, the experience includes small group tutors to ensure the material is readily understood.

Flyer showcasing the online event Medical Spanish Lecture Series hosted by PCOM Georgia students in October and November 2020

A team approach to curriculum design

Garcia is quick to point out that an entire committee has helped to build upon this initiative. After realizing the need for such a course, he invited fellow Biomedical Sciences student Danielle Myara, MS/Biomed ’20, to join him. She embraced the idea and together the two students began to work to turn this dream into a reality.

With advice and support from Valerie E. Cadet, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and co-chair of PCOM Georgia’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the two students decided to form a committee. Over the summer of 2020 and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Medical Spanish Initiative Committee was born.

Garcia explains that the long-term goal of the committee is to prepare future healthcare providers with the communication skills and background education necessary to treat Spanish-speaking populations.

Personal experience leads to passion to help others

As a teenager, Garcia experienced the need for better patient-doctor communication in a profound way. Born in Colombia, South America, he was forced to leave his country and family to seek political asylum in the United States. When he first arrived in the US at the age of 15, an Orlando, Florida, family who owned a nursing home invited him to live in the nursing home until he found a more stable situation.

“While I was living there, I felt alone and lost not knowing what my future would be,” he said, but he soon realized he was not alone. An unlikely kinship formed. “A few of the nursing home patients felt the same way,” he said. “We became good friends because they were the only people that I could talk to and I was the only person that they could talk to because we did not know how to speak English.”

He soon realized that there was an underlying issue. “These patients, my only friends, were suffering and dying while feeling alone because they could not properly communicate with the healthcare personnel to receive the care that they needed. It was painful to see my friends and primary support suffer over this language barrier while not being able to do anything about it.”

Garcia pledged to himself that when he got on his feet he would work to solve this problem for future patients.

A few years later, Garcia reunited with his family in America. He again witnessed a similar situation even more close to home. “My father, who doesn't speak English, needed surgery and his urologist did not speak Spanish. This situation stirred a great deal of anxiety and fear in my father, who was already fearful of the fact that he needed to undergo surgery,” Garcia recalled.

“Thankfully, I had already learned English and was able to translate for my father and his healthcare provider. After the surgery I thought to myself - what would have happened and what kind of care would my father have received if I was not there for him? I again realized that there is still an issue and that something needs to be done.”

Breaking down the patient-doctor communication barrier

Student Wahenoor Singh (DO ’23), a medical Spanish curriculum co-writing chair, pointed out that in America, more than 41 million people speak Spanish at home, making Spanish the second most frequently spoken language in the United States behind English.

Singh said, “We believe that every individual has the right to easily accessible health care. For Americans who are not proficient in English, healthcare professionals learning Spanish will help to provide complete and efficient medical care.”

He addressed the issue of medical interpreters who often help alleviate some of the treatment obstacles. Singh said, “While it is true that interpreters can always be brought on the scene, this is less than ideal because it means a stranger is brought to the patient and they must act as a bridge between the provider and the patient. This could add more complexity between the patient-doctor dynamic, while possibly revealing private information to the acting translator.”

He added that issues of a patient’s decision-making autonomy, as well as medical professionalism, might come into play as well. “Medical professionals are ethically bound to advocate for their patients. Even having rudimentary skills in speaking Spanish can help provide more holistic and complete care to the patient and lead to higher patient satisfaction. This is especially true when a higher quality of care can be provided by communicating in a way the patient can fully understand.”

A comprehensive committee

Committee members include students from all five of PCOM Georgia’s programs including osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies.

Myara said, “We’d like to thank our project manager, Jaclyn Zibman (MS/Biomed ’22), and the rest of the committee members for sharing this passion with us and working so hard on this project. We couldn’t have asked for a better team!”

She added, “We would also like to thank Dr. Cadet for her endless support for our initiative. We are grateful to have her in our corner. Also, a special thanks to Star Greene, PCOM Georgia’s debt management counselor and the head of PCOM Georgia’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the PCOM Georgia diversity council as a whole for embracing this initiative as well and cheering us on.”

Garcia said, “The way that PCOM Georgia embraces diversity and inclusivity is one of the main reasons why I chose to obtain my education here.”

Members of the Medical Spanish Initiative Committee include Garcia, founder and director; Myara, associate director; Singh; Zibman; along with committee chairs including Leah Adams (MS/PA ’22), Mariam Ahmed (DO ’23) Arish Amersi (DO ’24); Walter Asencios (MS/Biomed ’22); Lorena Buitrago (PharmD ’23); Rohan Ketan Dhamsania, MS (DO ’24); Angelique Estrada (DPT ’23); Mahreen N. Gilani, MS, (DO ’23); Azalech Hinton (DO ’24); Farmaan Judge (MS/Biomed ’22); Jeannel Miclat, MS (MS/Biomed ’22); Trupti Patel, (DO ’24); Fabiola Rojas (PharmD ’23); Karan Soni (DO ’24); and Daniel Valdes (DO ’24).

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