Access and Equity Diversity in Health Care
Bridging the health care divide
Aspiring doctors seek to overcome language barriers for Spanish-speaking patients
Editor's note: Since the original publication of this article in March 2020, Melanie Izquierdo has been working as a junior clinical data abstractor specializing in cervical cancer clinical data at Tempus Labs, a Biotechnology Company in Chicago. David Velasquez has been accepted to Weill Cornell Medical College.
A trip to the doctor's office can often feel like swimming in a bowl of alphabet soup. Multi-syllable words and acronyms describe conditions more complicated than their names. To find out if a medicine will interact with others, or to know if a side effect is normal, can be difficult even for a native English speaker. But the stakes raise for patients for whom English isn’t their first language, when the wrong interpretation can have major consequences.
Currently, there’s a lack of physicians and health care professionals who identify with the communities they serve and treat. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the composition of the current physician workforce indicates that only about 9 percent of physicians identify as black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Hispanic or Latino, which is not representative of the nation’s current demographics. At Loyola University Chicago, members of the Latinx community make up about 15 percent of the Loyola graduates who apply to medical school. They intend to bridge the divide and be an encouragement for others.
“I spoke Spanish at home all the time because my parents were immigrants. As I was growing up, I really enjoyed science and thought about careers in health care, yet I realized that not a lot of physicians were Spanish-speaking,” says David Velasquez (BS ’19), a Loyola graduate about to commit to medical school. “I found myself interpreting and translating English into Spanish so my parents could understand the different health care aspects that were going on.”
Velasquez’s experience is far from uncommon, and prompted his decision to volunteer as a Spanish Interpreter at CommunityHealth Clinic on Chicago’s West Side during his undergraduate career. His interactions with patients inspired him to pursue clinical research that delivers health care for the patient in a space where they feel they can ask questions.