The growing need for Spanish-speaking doctors in Hampton Roads
Within Hampton Roads, there are more than 140,000 people, roughly 7% of the population, who identify as Hispanic or Latino. This group is also the fastest growing demographic within this region, and many of them speak only Spanish.
All of these people need and deserve quality healthcare. Clear communication is a cornerstone of building a strong doctor-patient relationship and ensuring the best patient care. But language barriers can make it difficult for these patients to find the kind of care that truly meets their needs. According to a recent survey from Pew Research, 46% of Hispanic adults say they have a close friend or family member who needs a Spanish-speaking healthcare provider or translator. Our Hispanic population needs healthcare providers who can meet them on—and in—their own terms.
Communicating with Spanish-speaking patients
All hospitals and many clinics within the region provide Spanish interpreter services, often in person or over the phone. But these translation services add to the time crunch of already short appointments. They also put more space between the doctor and the patient. A doctor isn’t truly hearing a patient’s needs and complaints in their own words, even with the best translator.
Eastern Virginia Medical School is working to increase the number of doctors who speak Medical Spanish and communicate one-on-one with their patients. The program uses an NIH-approved curriculum, online learning programs, in-person classes and immersion in Spanish-speaking clinics to help medical students learn how to communicate clearly with their Spanish-speaking patients.
These students also work within the community, performing screenings and education in Spanish. They help run the Clinica Esperanza, a free clinic for uninsured Spanish speakers. They currently serve more than 200 patients from the region.
So far, 36 students have completed the program and achieved certification in Medical Spanish. Each medical student represents another physician who can care for the underserved Hispanic community and help them achieve better health.
Expanding Spanish-speaking resources
One Medical Spanish program alone isn’t enough to meet the need for Spanish-speaking providers in Hampton Roads. Looking to the future, hospitals and physicians throughout the region must find ways to provide for the needs of all their patients.
Physicians can find many continuing medical education courses in Medical Spanish, from online courses to immersive experiences in Mexico, Peru and other locations. These programs can fit into any physician’s yearly CME requirements.
Ideally, caring for the Hispanic population also requires knowledge of their culture and backgrounds. Healthcare institutions would greatly benefit from having a more diverse staff of physicians, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals with Hispanic backgrounds. A more diverse team improves cultural understanding, which positively impacts the quality of patient care by ensuring that every patient’s voice is heard.
To protect the health of the entire Hampton Roads community, we must strive for clear communication with all patients. As the Hispanic population continues to grow, doctors who can speak Spanish may find they are busier than ever—and making a bigger positive impact than they ever could have expected.