Medical Students Seek to Add ‘Bilingual’ to their Resumes

Posted in GUMC Stories

MAY 23, 2014 — Becoming a well-rounded physician requires a solid clinical foundation and a commitment to helping others. But a group of Georgetown University School of Medicine (new window) students believe that being bilingual should also rank high on that list of skills and talents.

In an effort to promote Spanish-language skills in medicine, these students formed the Medical Spanish Interest Group (new window), which meets biweekly. According to Latisha Ricketts (M’16), the group’s president, the entirely student-run group offers a comfortable environment for people to sharpen their Spanish skills—and apply them to settings they might encounter as physicians.

“It is important to be able to communicate with our patients,” says Ricketts. “Even if an interpreter is needed, having basic Spanish skills is very beneficial to establishing a rapport.”

There are about 25 students in the group. Each meeting has its own theme, she says. During one meeting, students took turns role-playing as doctors and patients so they could practice asking and answering questions in Spanish.

Another time, members of the MSIG student board provided information on the culture of two Latin American countries.

“Our goal was to increase cultural awareness and to encourage students to consider doing their own research on their patient populations in the future,” says Ricketts.

Keeping Up With Trends

The need for this group speaks to the fact that the percentage of Spanish-speaking persons in the U.S. is steadily growing.

The Hispanic population is expected to reach 128.8 million by 2060—or 31 percent of the nation’s population, the U.S. Census Bureau projects. And the number of Spanish-speaking Americans increased by 117 percent from 1990 to 2011.

“While the earliest medical Spanish interest arose from our strong educational relationships with Latin American countries, often with Jesuit connections, we now must also prepare for an evolving demography of the patients our graduates will treat,” says Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, MBA (new window), dean for medical education at Georgetown’s School of Medicine.

With changing demographics, future physicians want to be ready. The health of Hispanic populations is often shaped by factors such as language or culture, and Hispanics are more likely to suffer health effects of conditions such as obesity, asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and infant mortality, among others, according to the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“In order for us to uphold the Georgetown value of cura personalis, or care for the whole person, it is crucial to make every effort to be able to speak to and identify with our patients in a manner that would make them feel most comfortable,” Ricketts says.

International Opportunities

Georgetown medical students have also sought out international study opportunities in Latin America through the Office of International Programs (new window), to serve underdeveloped communities and also to improve their Spanish.

In the summer of 2012, Ricketts travelled to the Dominican Republic. During her time there, she and 12 other medical students travelled to rural areas to provide health services to local residents. The experience reinforced Ricketts’ desire to become a bilingual doctor.

“Our attempt to communicate effectively resonated with them and they were especially receptive and willing to disclose their personal health information,” Ricketts says.

By Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications