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Medical Spanish for Rehabilitation Professionals? Yay or Nay?

Did you know that English is the third most spoken country in the world?... Wait…did you say THIRD? Yes, English is not the first most common or even the second most commonly spoken language. Prior to today, I didn’t realize that Chinese was the most commonly spoken language in the world, followed by Spanish, followed by English. I bet you also didn’t know Hispanic patient’s with limited English proficiency make up 20% of the U.S. population. In fact, the U.S. has the 5th largest Spanish-speaking population in the world! I didn’t until I took “Medical Spanish for Rehabilitation Professionals: A New Approach: The Basics” taught by Ron Scott, EdD, JD, MA, PT offered by MedBridge.

As a seasoned traveling healthcare professional, I’ve experienced the need to become more competent in Spanish first-hand. As a traveler, I’ve had multiple contracts where I’ve treated a patient population where their primary language was Spanish. At first, this was very overwhelming. While I had taken four years of Spanish in high school, that was 10 years ago!!! It was sink or swim. Luckily, in the first assignment this happened to me, all the support staff were bilingual which was a tremendous help. Many of the other therapists on staff were also bilingual. However, it was an eye-opening experience for sure. It made me realize that it’s important for all healthcare professionals to have some ability to communicate in Spanish with their patients for a couple of reasons:

1) The ability to communicate with these patients is critical to their recovery. They have a right to communicate in their preferred language. Can you imagine how scary it would be to not be spoken to in English and have no idea what a medical professional was going to do to you next?

2) You can’t effectively treat Spanish-speaking patient’s without being minimally competent in Spanish.

3) Knowing basic medical Spanish will not only help you effectively communicate with your patients, but will help to build rapport and trust.

In this MedBridge course, the course instructor made clear that IT’S OK TO USE SPANGLISH. Patient’s aren’t expecting you be fluent in their language, but they sincerely appreciate it when you try. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a mistake by switching a word here or there, but the patient’s laugh it off and find it endearing.

Finding and using translators can be a barrier in any practice, particularly in the outpatient, home health, or skilled nursing setting. Most hospitals have video, phone, or in-person translators. Having worked in several hospitals, it can be very difficult to utilize an in-person translator because of timing concerns. Video and over-the-phone translation can be acceptable, however, poses an entirely different set of challenges. For the hearing or cognitively impaired patient, these tools can create greater problems and be ineffective.

For the reasons, it’s important that every clinician familiarize themselves with basic medical Spanish to serve as a backup to these translator services, translating apps, dictionaries, etc.

As someone who has been practicing my Spanglish with patients for the past two plus years, I found the MedBridge course to be a great starting point for those clinicians looking to make the first step in their journey to becoming more competent in medical Spanish. It was basic, but informative. You receive a lot of education and important phrases that you can transition into your practice right away without feeling overwhelmed.

To view the course, you must have a MedBridge subscription. Click any of the MedBridge links in this article to receive 40% of an annual MedBridge subscription.

Another medical Spanish course is also offered at TravCon in September for $89. A MedBridge subscription is $200-$250 for unlimited CEUs. Of the nine states I’m licensed in, I received 2.5 hours of continuing education in seven of the nine states I’m licensed in through MedBridge.

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