Joao Correia & Lucas Fernandes: USF Students Promote Health Equity Through Medical Spanish

Joao Correia & Lucas Fernandes: USF Students Promote Health Equity Through Medical Spanish
Knowing Spanish is crucial to providing equitable and culturally-competent care to Spanish-speaking patients in the United States. Devon Saliga, CEO & Founder of Beepboop, a live online Medical Spanish simulation platform, is showcasing the stories of Global Health Equity Ambassadors who are  improving bilingual communication at their organizations. Follow along to learn from these innovative projects and replicate them in your own schools and health systems. This feature highlights the work of Joao Correia and Lucas Velasco, Global Health Equity Ambassadors from the University of South Florida.


Devon: Joao and Lucas, thank you for sharing your story with us today. I understand you’re both third-year international students at the University of South Florida. What’s that journey been like?


Joao: Lucas and I came to the United States in our early teens, while our families stayed in Brazil. We both had a similar goal – to eventually attend Medical School in the US. However, as international students, we face many challenges, such as, when applying to medical school, we are unable to receive financial aid. Additionally, there is a limited number of institutions to which we can apply because most Medical Schools require their applicants to be either US citizens or permanent residents; however, as international students, we are here on an F-1 visa.


Lucas: We had to figure out a lot on our own. Knowing that we weren't the only ones in this situation, we decided to help our community by offering resources, connections, and information to help them succeed. We did that by creating the Latino Medical Student Association+ (LMSA+) at USF and a podcast called Pre-Med On Call.


Devon: It’s awesome to see you both try to help students who are in similar positions as you. How do you accomplish that with your projects?


Joao: Lucas and I start every project with a purpose: to help our community. As a first responder in the USF Medical Response Unit, I heard from some EMTs how difficult it is to communicate with some Spanish-speaking patients on the field. That wasn't the first time I had heard about this, and I saw an opportunity to help my community of healthcare providers. So Lucas and I set up a Medical Spanish workshop, to teach Medical Spanish to First Responders, and offer volunteering hours for Spanish-speaking members at LMSA+.


Devon: Communication in first responders is so important, yet most people don’t really think about the impact of language barriers. A Medical Spanish workshop is a really good idea; how did you motivate students to take part?


Lucas: We knew the workshop had to be engaging. We were offering it to first responders with experience in the field as well as undergraduate students who had never had "hands-on" experience. If we made it in a lecture format, it would probably be boring, and not that many people would be interested. Instead, we decided to "sell the experience": the first responders would be able to teach undergraduate students some techniques they use in the field, and as they enjoyed the experience, they would also learn Spanish.


Devon: I completely agree that lectures can be boring and not engage students. Hands-on experiences are definitely more engaging and contribute to learning retention more positively, which is why we base our Beepboop Spanish lessons on a similar learning strategy. So how did you structure the workshop?


Joao: During the event, forty participants were split into four groups of ten, and each group rotated through four stations. In the first three stations – Splinting, Hemorrhage Control, and Basic Life Safety – members learned how to perform various skills such as immobilizing an injured arm, placing a tourniquet, and CPR. In the final station, Spanish Medical Terminology, Spanish-fluent volunteers translated medical cases/scenarios from English to Spanish, exposing our members to some basic Spanish terminology used in clinics.


Devon: That's a creative way to teach essential skills and incorporate Spanish at the same time. It would be great to see this replicated by others! What advice would you give other students or schools who want to do a similar project?


Joao: The best way to have a Medical Spanish workshop is by making it exciting and engaging. You have to think about the overall experience the person in your workshop will have.


Devon: From the sound of it, you accomplished that in your own workshop! Did you receive any support from administration at USF or other organizations to complete your event?


Joao: The event would not have been possible without the help of the UEMSA (University Emergency Medicine Student Association) at USF and the officers at LMSA+. The whole workshop was planned by both organizations together. The UEMSA also brought seven well-trained first responders to teach CPR, hemorrhage control, and splinting to the people present. They provided real-life equipment such as CPR mannequins, bandages, SAM splints, tourniquets, etc. 


Devon: That must have been a huge help. It's great to hear about your community coming together to support your mission. Do you have any more plans to try to keep improving health equity in your community?


Joao: Lucas and I have some ideas in mind for the future. We plan to keep providing resources for all pre-med students, particularly those who are international students and from minority groups. For example, MCAT prep scholarships, volunteering opportunities, mentorship programs, and others. Additionally, we will also invest more time in the Medical Spanish workshops, hosting them throughout the semester. We see many healthcare facilities in need of Spanish speakers to improve their patient care. And after this event, we saw the impact we can make by helping train current and future providers.


Devon: Well, Joao and Lucas, thanks again for sharing your story! You are doing great work for an important mission, and we look forward to seeing how you continue to innovate the health field in the future.


Thanks to Joao and Lucas, USF students will be piloting the Beepboop platform to learn Medical Spanish through simulations with live instructors.