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New UA medical Spanish program to develop certified bilingual doctors

Posted at 8:28 PM, May 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-05 23:28:41-04

A new medical Spanish program at the UA College of Medicine - Tucson will train doctors to better serve the needs of the city's Spanish-speaking population in Tucson. The new program also aims to help residents and fellows to be culturally sensitive, linguistically appropriate physicians to enhance the physician-patient relationship.

There's only so much you can get from a medical exam and being able to interpret, until someone tells you what you need, you're guessing," said  Dr. Roberto Swazo, who has been at Banner University Medical Center South Campus for three years. He has noticed some challenges for patients who don't speak English. The language barrier, he argues, makes it difficult to communicate with patients, even with an interpreter. Although interpreters are helpful, sometimes it isn't enough because a lot can be lost in the translation, he said. "It creates for a difficult patient interaction and frustration on both sides," he explained. 

Twenty-seven percent of Tucsonans are native Spanish speakers, according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The amount of spanish speakers in Tucson and the challenges being faced everyday in hospitals is the reason why the UA College of Medicine - Tucson is launching a spanish medical training program for doctors at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson campus.

The two-year Spanish language program will be limited to residents who already are intermediate-to-proficient Spanish speakers. Participants will participate in facilitated monthly medical Spanish classes. They will also have the opportunity to practice speaking Spanish one-on-one with colleagues at monthly luncheons. 

During the two-year track, qualified participants will have the opportunity to become certified bilingual providers by taking the national Clinician Cultural and Linguistic Assessment (CCLA) exam. Certification allows physicians to communicate directly with target-language patients without the use of an interpreter.

The program will also include a focus on health care disparities, inequalities that occur in health care , specifically those affecting the Tucson patient population. 

For the first year at Banner UMC, the program will accept 12 to 15 doctors.  If it's successful, the college plans on expanding it to all Banner campuses.