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¿Se Habla Español?
With the explosion of Hispanic patients, isn’t it time to learn a little Spanish?


Furrrowed brows abound in Bayview's new Command Spanish for Office Personnel class.

Mary Evans’ face has turned a shade of red she had nearly forgotten: classroom crimson. Twenty-five pairs of eyes bore into her as she forces her mouth around words that, on this first evening of Spanish class, are utterly foreign to her.

Evans is putting herself through this because she wants to understand and help the growing numbers of Hispanic patients she passes in the halls of JH Bayview Medical Center, where she works as an executive assistant in public affairs. She has enrolled in a non-credit course called Command Spanish for Office Personnel, new at Bayview this spring. Her classmates come from departments as varied as Admitting, Mail Services and Clinical Nutrition to learn proper pronunciation and work-related phrases in the class, which meets for two hours a week for six weeks.

The class is part of a Hopkins-wide effort to address the language barriers created by Baltimore’s dramatic influx of Central- and South-American immigrants in the last decade. Now topping 15,000 city-wide, the ethnic group accounts for a growing number of patients admitted to Bayview, especially its Gyn/Ob department, says Cathy Mazzotta, director of training and development at Bayview. “We hope these classes will make employees more comfortable dealing with Hispanic patients and families,” she says. “Even if all they can say in Spanish is ‘Good morning’ or ‘Don’t cry,’ it will mean a lot.”

Last summer, as requests for hospital interpreters continued to flood the patient relations office, Bayview called in Baltimore City Community College’s Business and Continuing Education Division to conduct an occupational needs assessment across several nursing units. They found that because interpreters were few and far between, nurses worried that they wouldn’t be able to explain to patients what was happening or assess their needs.

So the first Command Spanish class, this with a medical focus, was piloted in the fall, attracting 39 nurses and clinical staff. Over six, two-hour sessions, students learned to take medical histories, perform routine procedures, administer medication and interact with family members—all in Spanish. According to post-class evaluations, those who completed the program found it beneficial on the job.

Faced with issues similar to those at Bayview, Hopkins Hospital teamed up with the University’s romance languages faculty and launched its own medical Spanish curriculum in early February. Online testing funnels applicants into beginner, intermediate or advanced classes. Instead of learning simple commands, students build a grammatical foundation in the language with an emphasis on medical terminology. They are paired with an online mentor—a Spanish-speaking physician from either Spain or Mexico. For the 10-week course they earn three undergraduate credits.

Students enrolled in Spanish classes on both campuses learn more than just vocabulary; they also get a crash course in the subtleties of Hispanic culture and etiquette. Address a woman as Señorita regardless of her age, if you don’t know her marital status, the teacher says. Buenas tardes—good afternoon—applies as long as there’s light in the sky. And familia, he stresses, is the most important social unit, encompassing all blood relations. Muy bien, clase. You are dismissed.

Lindsay Roylance

To register:

Bayview: 410-550-1175
JHH: www.jhu.edu/advanced/ medspanish/
(Interpretation services in Spanish and 300 languages now are available through International Patient Services’ 24-hour Call Center: 410-614-4685).

 

 

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