Communication Troubles in Healthcare

Receiving healthcare in the United States as a non-native English speaker can be daunting.

For patients with limited English proficiency (LEP), meeting with healthcare professionals who only speak English often leads to miscommunication, poor in-patient care, and confusion. As a result, the Latino population – who represent the largest non-white group in the United States – face language and cultural barriers that disproportionately affect them when receiving healthcare.

For future healthcare professionals, understanding basic and medical Spanish is essential to providing needed care and building positive patient relations.

Ball State Offers Spanish for Healthcare Professionals

Professor Adam Ballart

Professor Adam Ballart – Modern Languages & Classics

Spanish 338: Spanish for Healthcare Professionals is a course open to any participant looking to increase their Hispanic cultural awareness related to healthcare. According to Professor Adam Ballart, “this course addresses a crucial need in the healthcare field and plants the seeds for better Hispanic patient health outcomes.” In this class, students will increase their interpretation, sight translation, and cultural competency skills through the practice of real-world scenarios. Considering less than 6% of American physicians speak Spanish, a course like this offers a first step to breaking that language barrier.

For student Vivian Van Eck, an exercise science major and Spanish minor who is working towards becoming a physical therapist, Spanish 338 introduced her to cultural gaps in our healthcare system and provided new skills for her future in healthcare.

Vivian Van Eck “Not only did I learn a lot of Spanish during this class, but I felt as though I learned a lot of medical content as well. And what I learned from a cultural standpoint will help me to better connect, communicate, and treat patients in the future” – Vivian Van Eck

Connection and communication are key to providing adequate healthcare. Dr. Carolina Abuelo, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Charlestown HealthCare Center, explains, “If physicians can’t communicate with their patients, we end up with a two-tiered system of healthcare,” leading many LEP citizens to avoid receiving medical care altogether. Taking the steps to learn medical and basic Spanish may determine whether someone receives needed care or not. And, as Vivian points out, this skill is important for anyone in the medical field, not just interpreters.

This is why Spanish 338 is designed for anyone: individual learners, pre-professional undergrads, graduate students, and working healthcare professionals.

Professor Ballart teaches students in SP 338 to use Spanish in healthcare settings

Professor Ballart teaches students in SP 338 to use Spanish in healthcare settings

Whether you have minimal training in Spanish or are an aspiring bilingual healthcare professional or interpreter, this class is adaptable to you and your professional goals. Vivian, for instance, was even able to shadow a Spanish Interpreter in a physical therapy setting as part of her final project.

Vivian has completed her minor, but she still practices Spanish every day and tries to immerse herself in the language. Communicating with patients goes beyond explaining information, it is about making them feel comfortable and cared for. The Spanish-speaking community deserves this comfort and care, but our healthcare system can only improve once we start breaking the language barrier.

For more information on Spanish 338: Spanish for Healthcare Professionals, and how to enroll, visit our website. Also check out the new Spanish for Health courses, SP 101.3 and SP 201.4, starting fall 2023.