Students Pioneering Medical Spanish At TCU

Students Pioneering Medical Spanish At TCU

Devon: Thank you all for meeting with us and sharing your story. Tell us a little about yourself and what you’re studying.

Lauren Holladay: My pleasure! I am a medical student at the Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at Texas Christian University (Class of 2025) from Richmond, TX and a proud Panamanian woman. I obtained my B.S. from Texas A&M University ‘18 and my M.S. from the University of the Incarnate Word ‘20, and am currently interested in pursuing Orthopaedic Surgery. I am a member of the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), serving as the co-director of Medical Spanish along with my classmate Isabella Amado for the 2022-2023 academic year. I’m here with Edmundo Esparza and Connor Rodriguez, Class of 2023, who helped found the LMSA Medical Spanish program.

Devon: What is it like to study at the Burnett School of Medicine? Tell us what you’ve been working on there. 

Lauren: The school’s motto is ‘Learn, Apply and Serve.’ We are taught how to be Empathetic Scholars® throughout our entire curriculum. Isabella and I are the current Co-Directors of Medical Spanish under the umbrella of the LMSA. We host sessions where materials are provided beforehand, then in-person Spanish-speakers pretend to be patients while attendees get to practice in a mock setting. We want students to be able to learn a new skill and be able to apply that skill while serving our community.

Devon: Just like your motto says - fantastic! And not so different from our approach to Medical Spanish lessons at Beepboop. What prompted you to join this project?

Lauren: I was motivated to be a part of the program after seeing the work put in to start the LMSA Medical Spanish program by our inaugural class of medical students, the Class of 2023: Ivette Mota-Avila, Herman Charrez-Baxcajay, Edmundo Esparza, and Connor Rodriguez, as well as the continued work of the subsequent Class of 2024 students Caden Duffy and Leticia Rivera. I am a proud Latina, and my mother is an incredible Spanish teacher. Seeing how she changes her students’ lives by giving them the gift of a new language has always been a huge inspiration for me and I saw the opportunity to be able to do the same for my colleagues.

Edmundo Esparza: I was inspired to start working on the Medical Spanish program during my first-year as a medical student. I remember walking into a Spanish-speaking patient’s room and seeing her face light up with a smile as I introduced myself in Spanish. Being the unofficial translator for my immigrant parents over the years, I know just how detrimental of a barrier language can be. With this curriculum, we hoped that students would learn enough to connect with their patients and advocate for them.

Devon: That’s definitely a strong personal motivation. Did you face any challenges getting the program started?

Connor Rodriguez: The initial process of starting a Medical Spanish course was difficult due to managing the great ideas of four individuals, usually related to the content. Determining how much content we wanted to share with our classmates was difficult as well, as we didn’t want to risk the course being overwhelming or unappealing. Additionally, we didn’t want it to be ‘low yield’ for our classmates. Fortunately, we all worked well together and were able to agree and compromise, leading to a successful program.

Devon: Sounds like you make a great team! Did you get any help from administration or any faculty?

Connor: Yes! The Office of Student Affairs at Burnett School of Medicine loved the idea. It has now become an additional 4th-year elective. We also have support from a few of our faculty physicians who have ample experience speaking Spanish with their patients, and other faculty members attend sessions to learn new things as well.

Devon: Wow, I’m glad you found so much support. What goals are you and your program working towards these days?

Lauren: Currently, our goal before we graduate is to establish a hybrid (in-person/online-based) model for teaching medical Spanish that incorporates online modules, interactions, and conversational practice that can be done at one’s own pace starting as a first-year medical student. This would allow for more student involvement and better flexibility with scheduling, establishing student-specific learning goals to be achieved before completing the official Medical Spanish elective during 4th year.

Devon: A hybrid model is a great idea! At Beepboop we are online-only with the primary goal of widespread accessibility, but also working on our goal of incorporating our lessons into in-person medical school curriculums. What would you say is your overarching goal moving forward?

Lauren: We strive for all Burnett School of Medicine students to feel confident speaking Spanish with patients. We want to show the Fort Worth community that our students are compassionate, empathetic, and are willing to “walk in a patient's shoes” to help them get better health outcomes.

Devon: How would you advise other students with similar goals who want to get a project running at their school?

Lauren: The first task is investigating what specific barriers exist in your community. Is it health literacy? A specific language? Hygiene education? Whatever it may be, correlate your project with ways you can tangibly impact your community. Speak with your student body and ask what they are wanting to do. For example, there is a clear desire among the Burnett School of Medicine at TCU student body to improve their Spanish-speaking skills in a medical setting, since we are interacting with patients who speak Spanish as their primary language quite often here in Fort Worth. It is also important to have a clear structure set in stone from the beginning. It is okay to modify if needed, but students attending these sessions feel most comfortable when the amount of material and the simplicity of the sessions remains consistent. Lastly, encourage faculty and other students to get involved! We have several faculty and students who speak Spanish. It is clear how much fun it is to engage in conversations with colleagues, and it allows for a more comfortable learning environment.

Devon: Thank you for such an in-depth guide. Hopefully your advice will help other medical students follow in your footsteps! Is there anything else you would like to share with your audience?

Lauren: Learning medical Spanish is more than just being able to obtain a patient’s history or explain their diagnosis. It is all about making the patient feel comfortable and showing them that you care about wanting to understand them as a whole person, and not just their illness. It is an incredible feeling to see a patient’s demeanor change from anxious and stiff to comfortable and relaxed during a visit, simply by speaking the language that they feel most comfortable with. 

Devon: Beautifully said, and a really nice point to end on. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Hoping the best for you and your program, it seems to be in very good hands! 

Lauren: Thank you for speaking with me! As the school year closes, Isabella and I are thrilled to pass the torch to current first-year students Daniel Arrioja Azuaje and Vanessa Lozano. I cannot wait to see how they impact this program!