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¡Ay Doctor!

By Anne Elliott

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New course offers healthcare-specific Spanish lessons

This quarter the Community & Continuing Education Program at Whatcom Community College offers a new class available called “Spanish for Healthcare Professionals in a Clinical Setting.” This seven-course class is designed to teach students in healthcare fields elements of language that will allow them to communicate with primarily Spanish-speaking patients.

“Students will be learning vocabulary and phrases that are most important … to find a patient’s main issue,” said Linda Howson, a Continuing Education specialist at Whatcom. “Everyone needs healthcare.”

The Community & Continuing Education Center is a self-supported program at Whatcom that provides “an array of non-credit classes for Whatcom County citizens and beyond,” Howson wrote in an email.  Its mission is to offer “quality lifelong learning experiences that are relevant and enriching,” she said.

Howson said that there was a “Spanish for Healthcare” course at Whatcom years ago, but the last class ended in 2008. Howson, who wanted to see the course return, contacted Shirley King, a Spanish instructor at Whatcom, who said she would love to teach the course.

Shirley King, who holds a doctorate in Spanish literature, has served as a clinical interpreter and has worked in the field of cross-cultural relations for 25 years. She worked in medical clinics and therapeutic centers in Oregon and Alaska before moving to Bellingham in 2011.

“I’m a Northwesterner at heart,” said King, who has lived in 50 different places around the globe. King said she has taught as a college professor in the Ecuadoran jungle, on the coast of Mexico, and in Spain’s interior, and has written published works on language, literature and travel.

When it comes to the new Spanish course, King said there are many universities that teach similar courses, but there are not many in this area. King said she thinks Whatcom could be a leader for this type of class, and that it’s “the perfect setting for it.”

“There is a great need for interpreters of … different languages, especially Spanish and Russian in our area,” King said. “It opens a whole new world when you speak their language.”

King said that she feels languages are not taught as widely as they should be in the U.S.

“I would encourage the people who take this class to continue learning Spanish through volunteering,” she said. “Everyone can benefit from volunteering and learning new languages.”

Terry Lewis, a nursing student at Whatcom, said that accurate communication is one of the most important things in the medical field.

“The goal is to eliminate the need for a translator, or the use of a family member as an interpreter,” Lewis said. “A lot can be lost in translation. The translator could have their own interests in mind.”

On the first day of class, King said that her goal is to survey the class in order to get a feel for the needs of the students and then design the course schedule based on those needs.

Students who enroll will be learning medical vocabulary in the Spanish language one category at a time, divided among the seven one hour class periods, she said. “We will cover as much as we conceivably can.”

Lisa Booth-Goleman, who will graduate from Whatcom’s Medical Assisting Program in June, said she is considering taking the course. Booth-Goleman said it would be beneficial for healthcare professionals to learn Spanish in order to communicate with patients one-on-one, instead of having to go through a third-party translator. “It creates a more personal experience,” she said.

The class will take place in Kulshan 224 every Monday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Howson said this time was selected so that medical workers getting off at 5 p.m. can come spend an hour learning Spanish before heading home.

The class started Jan. 27 and end March 17. There is a $119 course fee that will cover the cost of the textbook provided for the class.


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