Enhancing patient care by breaking through language barriers

Language has always been a part of Graciela Gomez Vittori’s life. As a young girl growing up in Argentina, aside from her native Spanish language, she also studied English and French at the insistence of her father. Vittori resisted in the beginning, but little did she know that being multilingual would help pave her future career.

“My father always thought that learning languages was important,” said Gomez Vittori, who has spent the last 20 years as an interpreter. “I was always complaining about why I needed to know English. I didn’t like it. My father said, ‘One day you will thank me.’”

gracielagv-(1).jpgVittori has grown to love languages and knows that multilingualism has become a social phenomenon fueled by globalization and cultural openness. As a current administrative assistant for UC San Diego Maternal Fetal Care and Genetics, she also serves as a Spanish interpreter for the facility’s medical staff.

In an effort to teach Spanish language and culture to other medical professionals around San Diego County, Vittori is also the lead instructor for a new foreign language certificate program at UC San Diego Extension called Spanish for Healthcare Professionals. The targeted certificate program was designed to feed the growing demand for Spanish-speaking medical professionals in San Diego. The certificate includes three courses: Spanish for Healthcare Professionals I, Spanish for Healthcare Professionals II, and Spanish for Healthcare Professionals III.

The specialized certificate is designed for individuals with little or no formal training in Spanish. The goal of the program is to build student’s effectiveness in communicating with Spanish-speaking clients in various health care settings. Throughout the courses, students learn both general Spanish and Spanish medical terminology in order to understand their Spanish-speaking patients and increase their cultural competence, which will help them connect and build rapport with patients as well as give them more insight into patient-interpreter conversations.

It’s a much-needed skill – especially in San Diego.

According to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, San Diego County is home to about 732,023 Spanish speakers, or 24.6 percent of the region’s population. Meanwhile, California is home to nearly 7 million people who are categorized as limited English proficient (LEP). Those numbers coupled with the fact that more people are accessing health care systems because of the Affordable Care Act and it is easy to see why there is a need for health care professionals to be able to communicate with Spanish speakers. On a global and national level, experts predict that by the year 2050, there will be 530 million Spanish speakers, with about 100 million of those living in the United States.

Vittori said the quality of care rises significantly when healthcare professionals can communicate directly with their Spanish-speaking patients. She said breaking the language barrier leads to fewer errors, less misdiagnoses, and better compliance with treatment plans. This, in turn, results in cost savings for the provider and less morbidity and mortality throughout the Spanish-speaking community.

“Cultural competence is very important to see how that patient is going to interact. In the UC San Diego Extension classes, I teach my students about the importance of body posture when they are talking to Spanish-speaking patients,” Vittori said.

In order to provide her students with a real-world approach to working with Spanish-speaking patients, Vittori has them perform a lot of role playing in class as well as watch interactive videos. The certificate program began as a pilot last year, which included a variety of health care professionals, such as dentists, medical students, cardiac nurses and respiratory nurses. It also included transportation nurses, who frequently traveled to and from other states with large Spanish-speaking populations, such as Arizona, to pick up and care for babies in incubators and young seriously ill children.

The Spanish for Healthcare Professionals is a critical program for a region like San Diego, Vittori said, because the need for health care professionals to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients is so great.

“It improves the employment and skills of the health care professional and gives them a cultural view of the Spanish-speaking world,” she said. “Knowing Spanish also improves the care for patients 100 percent.”

Learn more about our Spanish for Healthcare certificate program and courses designed to meet growing demands of Spanish-speaking populations on our website.


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