October 20, 2016

Ana Gonzalez: Opening lines of communication

Medicine in Spanish elective goes beyond expanding vocabulary

Ana Gonzalez teaches medical Spanish class

Every fall, 32 medical students are selected by committee to participate in a Medicine in Spanish elective. Through this course, these students learn Spanish medical and anatomical terminology in a clinical setting, take a complete medical history in Spanish with simulated patient native-speakers, perform a physical exam in Spanish, understand sociocultural aspects specifically affecting Latino communities, and learn to identify and address the health needs more commonly affecting Latino communities.

Ana Gonzalez developed the Medicine in Spanish curriculum for the M1/M2 and M4 electives along with other University of Michigan Medical School faculty as part of the school’s commitment to preparing students to care for a diverse demographic of patients. Here Ana answers five questions about her role in helping others find a common language and a common bond.

How do med students find out about this course?

We send them an email around mid-August and invite them to attend an interest meeting where we give a presentation and information about this course and other opportunities to practice Medicine in Spanish at UMMS.

Do you have to take the M1/M2 electives in order to take the M4 elective?

No, you don't. They are different courses. The M4 course is more advanced, so you can take it after taking M1, or if your Spanish level is advanced enough you can just jump into the M4 elective. Most of my M4 students took Medicine in Spanish with me as M1s.

Does your class cover other topics in addition to teaching medical language fluency?

Yes, every lesson I go over several topics, such as family, social life, stigma, religion, traditions, food, etc. Additionally there is a specific unit we cover related to these aspects that addresses folk illnesses and how Latino patients feel about them.

Are there other events medical students participate in while they are taking Medicine in Spanish?

Yes, community service is a required component of the course. They can choose between working as interpreters for the U-M Student Run Free Clinic, or attend a health fair for the Latino community. Last year they worked with the LANAMA (Latin American and Native American Medical Association) Health Fair at St. Mary's in downtown Ann Arbor and the Women’s Health Fair at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. LANAMA also organizes Dia de la Familia, along with the U-M Cancer Center and the Ann Arbor Downtown Library, where they host medical activities and provide health information for Latino families.

What do you enjoy about teaching Medicine in Spanish?

I like that all my students are very interested in this course. It is an elective, so they get to choose it. Nobody ever feels forced to come to my classes, they all seem to enjoy it very much.

I feel very happy when I see my students and they tell me how much they have been using what they learned with me during their M3 clerkships, M4 rotation, or anytime when they have found themselves in a situation where they were the only ones in the room able to understand what a patient was saying and translate it for their faculty and others in the group.

In addition, I have learned a lot of medical Spanish myself because there are always new questions, new challenges in every class that require my research before giving the students an answer. I have also learned a lot about "other" Spanish. I am from Spain, but we are many millions that speak the same language. Sometimes you need to be very open to all the possible options to say something.