Medical Spanish Programs

As a physician-in-traning, your ability to communicate with your patients is essential to successful patient care. Many medical students – some with little Spanish skills and others with more advanced skills – are interested in improving their medical Spanish skills. Indeed these skills can be used locally (a large percentage of patients who visit BMC and affiliated community health centers speak Spanish as you will experience during your BMC rotations) and abroad. Also – the ability to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients provides an advantage when applying for residency.

When?

There are two (typical) times during the curriculum when students will undertake medical Spanish programs abroad:

  • During the summer between first and second year; and
  • During fourth year as a fourth-year elective.

What Program Should I Choose?

Medical Spanish programs abroad have varying degrees of exposure to native culture and medical clinics. You will need to explore the various programs listed below to determine which program suits your needs. Some programs have an established medical Spanish curriculum specifically designed for medical students and health professionals (i.e., their core mission is to educate medical personnel to better serve Spanish-speaking patient populations) while other programs focus on Spanish instruction with medical terminology provided as an adjunct to the curriculum.

  • Program Cost: The typical program fees for a four-week elective range from $1150 to $2500 depending on your choice of program, length of stay, etc.

  • Program Components: Each program provides some or all of the following components:
    • Medical Spanish instruction (one-on-one or group)
    • Clinical preceptorship/shadowing/observation at local clinics/hospitals
    • Cultural competency
    • Cultural immersion
    • Homestay

APPROVED Medical Spanish Programs

The following programs are well-used by first-year students for summer experiences. These programs also qualify as inside electives for fourth-year students because of known faculty connections and successful track records. Dr. Sarfaty is the B.U. mentor for these programs.

NOTE: A medical student cannot receive fourth-year credit for a Medical Spanish language program unless it is one of the approved programs listed below.

program country/region comments from Director of IH Program, BUSM (Jan. 2010)
Amerispan Salud Program Latin America Our students have had good experience with this program. It is well organized and caters to medical students. The experience is good for students who want to travel in a group and for those who do not want to be alone in a place that might be more challenging. The downside is the amount of potential English (from other students) that might get in the way of learning Spanish well in a short period of time.
Asociación Centro de Estudios de Español Pop Wuj Guatemala In the past, this group has had problems with organization. Recently logistical issues appear to be improved. The very positive feature of this program is the relative paucity of tourists in this region and the ability to really ‘dig in’ and learn Spanish in a rural setting. It is reportedly in a safe area of Guatemala. There have been safety issues in the very touristy city of Antigua (and there is easy access to get there and to Lake Atitlan) for weekend trips.
Cacha Medical Spanish Institute Ecuador This program is run by a U.S.-based family physician (Dr. Jorge Duchicela) who is based in Texas but originally from Ecuador. He works closely with colleagues and family members in Cacha to provide a quality program that is tailored to U.S. medical students. Cacha has had a close association with the University of Texas as Galveston. Dr. Duchicela has been extremely accommodating for our students to provide good learning experiences outside the classroom. We have had students attend this program for one to nine months.
Child Family Health International Latin America CFHI is a very well-organized program developed by a physician at Stanford to address the needs of US medical students as well as local in-country partners. This NGO has received commendation/support from the Gates Foundation for their model. Their programs are highly structured and serve best those students who have never been abroad and want a guided experience to learn some medical Spanish and participate in community service in a controlled safe setting. The downside to CFHI is the fees but fees are reinvested to sustain programs in the local communities.
Interhealth South America Ecuador This program is hosted by two American physicians, a husband-wife team who accompany the group of students to Ecuador. Maria Alarcon, the wife, is a native of the country and has solidified strong connections in the community and local clinics. Students spend part of the time with group and part of time with individual families. The upside is the individualized attention students get; they are very well cared for on this trip. There is some guided tourism involved. The downside is the group dynamic which could be primarily in English. For the student looking for a more in depth in country experience, who wants to be forced to speak Spanish daily, this might not be the best option. Recent participants in the trip felt that the group was too large.
International Health Central American Institute (IHCAI) Costa Rica Developed by Dr. Mario Tristan, a respected colleague, IHCAI is geared for American medical students. Dr. Tristan has worked closely with GHEC (a consortium of faculty/health care educators dedicated to global health education) to develop and tailor his program to student needs. Benefits are 1) the onsite presence of a colleague who is very receptive to our students (BUSM has ‘special status’ with this program, including some ‘discounted’ fees); and 2) being in Costa Rica, a delightful country to visit and easy to get around in from a safety and cost perspective (i.e. weekend trips). Downside is the presence of other English speaking students, location in a big city, and potential exposure to medicine that is not dramatically different from the US IHCAI is good program for students with limited exposure to Latin America and/or safety concerns.
Mayan Medical Aid Guatemala Craig A. Sinkinson, M.D., is an American trained FM/ER doctor who opened a clinic in an underserved area of Guatemala on Lake Atitlán in 2004. To help subsidize the clinic, he gives private Spanish lessons along with his Guatemalan (M.D.) wife while students are encouraged to participate in their clinic. The benefits of this program are 1) the one-on-one attention; 2) the ability to participate in the local clinic and potentially create a public health/community outreach program; and 3) the gorgeous and safe location for an immersion experience. The downside is that the people of this community do not speak Spanish as their first language but a native local Mayan dialect. However, there is plenty of opportunity to visit a large tourist community nearby and to engage Spanish-speaking clinic personnel. This is a good first time experience in a third world country with the possibility to engage in a community project and clinic on site.
Medical Spanish/International Health Course (sponsored by the Univ. of Nebraska Med. Center) Nicaragua Sara Pirtle at University of Nebraska, International Studies and Programs worked diligently over the years to create a strong program in medical Spanish for first- and fourth-year students in Guatemala. The program was well organized, academic, fun, and very well attended. Due to safety concerns in Guatemala, her program moved to Nicaragua. I do not have feedback on recent participants; however, based upon her track record of organization and educational mission, I suspect this model is very similar in a new and safe location. Contact Sara for more details.