The Use of Spanish by Medical Students and Residents at One University Hospital

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Abstract

Purpose

To describe how medical trainees report communication with Spanish-speaking patients, and to assess trainees' desire to improve their language skills and have those skills formally evaluated.

Method

A questionnaire was mailed to all fourth-year medical students and non-first-year residents in family practice, pediatrics, medicine, medicine–pediatrics, emergency medicine, and obstetrics–gynecology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in 2004 (N = 263).

Results

The response rate was 92% (241/263). Each respondent had at least one year of clinical experience at the hospital. Of the 83% (199/241) who reported less than conversational Spanish language skills, 53% had taken a history and/or provided medical advice directly to Spanish-speaking patients without any form of interpretation. When an interpreter was used, professional interpretation services were used less frequently than other forms of interpretation (42% versus 58%, p < .05). Analyses were performed on the 68% (164/241) who reported having at least rudimentary Spanish skills: 85% reported that they would probably or definitely participate in further individual language training, 70% expressed at least possible willingness to have their Spanish formally evaluated, and 80% predicted that it is at least possible that they will use their Spanish as attending physicians.

Conclusions

At the time of this study, this hospital's medical students and residents from multiple specialties used inadequate Spanish language skills to provide direct medical care despite the availability of professional interpretation services. Most of these trainees were motivated to improve their Spanish and would welcome evaluation of their language skills.

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