By Ed Brennen
As the Hispanic population in the United States continues to grow, so too does the need for medical professionals who can communicate with their patients in Spanish.
To prepare for this growing need, 13 students from the Solomont School of Nursing traveled to Cádiz, Spain, this summer with Asst. Prof. Valerie King for an intensive two-week language course, “Medical Spanish for Nurses.”
Students learned medical terminology each morning in classes taught by faculty at the University of Cádiz, an international partner institution with UMass Lowell. In the afternoons, students visited local hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and herb shops, where they were able to compare and contrast the U.S. and Spanish health care systems.
“The knowledge I gained and the new vocabulary I learned will be very helpful when discussing health issues with Spanish-speaking patients,” says nursing major Sabrina Andrews, a rising junior from Taunton who was able to build on her two years of high school Spanish.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 39.3 million people who spoke Spanish at home in 2014 – a 126.3 percent increase from 1990. The country’s Hispanic population, meanwhile, is projected to more than double by 2060, from 55 million to 119 million.
King knows firsthand the challenge of communicating with patients who don’t speak English. She works as a nurse practitioner in Dracut, where she estimates 30 percent to 40 percent of the patients speak Spanish.
“There’s a huge Spanish-speaking population here in the Merrimack Valley – in Lowell, Lawrence and beyond in Boston – so there’s a great need for this professionally,” says King, who opened the trip to students of all Spanish proficiencies.
Nursing major Chris Manganello, a rising sophomore from Braintree, took three years of high school Spanish but says nothing compares to being immersed in the language.
“Understanding the Spanish language is one thing, but hearing how they speak and understanding the mannerisms was really helpful,” says Manganello, who extended his time in Spain by going to Madrid a week before the rest of the group arrived and then staying an extra four days after the program ended. Along the way, he tried snails (“Absolutely delicious”) and dogfish (a type of shark) and scored front-row seats to a professional soccer game in Cádiz.
In addition to their coursework, the nursing students soaked up the culture and beauty of Cádiz, one of Europe’s oldest cities, which is located on a peninsula on Spain’s southwestern coast. They learned how to make tapas, attended a flamenco show and explored beaches, gardens and cathedrals, blogging about the experiences throughout the trip. They stayed with host families, which allowed them to practice their language skills even more.
“Now more than ever, people need to experience other cultures and get to know other people’s points of view, especially in health care, where collaboration is key,” says Manganello, who hopes to do more traveling in his nursing career.
Andrews, who enjoyed visiting the Cádiz Cathedral and eating gelato, says she returned home with a new perspective on the U.S. health care system.
“I was surprised that their health care in Spain is better than what we have here in a lot of ways,” Andrews says. “I was surprised how they incorporated their version of a Social Security card into their health care system, and how that granted everyone access.”
Andrews and Manganello were joined on the trip by Megan Aukstikalnis, Scholastica Awa, Emily Cadigan, Mariah Friesz, Colleen Garside, Edilenie Guzman, Sarah Hoffmann, Alexandra Loblundo, Maeve Norton, Savanna Smith and Mariana Stone.
This was the sixth study abroad trip for King, who has taken nursing students to Ghana three times and once each to Chile and China. She’d never traveled to Spain before, and worked with the International Experiences and Study Abroad office to put the course together.
“The students had an awesome time,” says King, who would like to extend the trip to three weeks in the future to allow more time for cultural visits. While the course was run through the foreign language department at the University of Cádiz, King says their nursing school has already reached out to her about possible future collaborations.