News & Stories

Reaching Spanish Speakers with COVID-19 Information

Anibelky Almanzar knew that Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States – and that the Latino community has been significantly affected by COVID-19 due to social determinants of health, such as language barriers. So when the third-year College of Medicine student was awarded the Emergency Medicine Writing/Research Fellowship from the University of New Mexico (UNM) to use for an elective rotation, she pursued a passion project: finding ways to improve the health outcomes and address health disparities in the Latino/Hispanic community. 

With the support of John P. Sánchez, M.D., a national leader of the Latino Medical Student Association, Almanzar – a member of NEOMED’s LMSA chapter – teamed up with the Emergency Medicine department of UNM and three other student-physicians to develop materials in Spanish and English to train medical students and clinicians how to communicate more effectively with Spanish-speaking patients who present to a hospital’s emergency department with COVID-19 symptoms. 

The team developed a presentation, scripts, and videos. Materials were collected into a package that can be presented in a one-hour workshop. 

“We educate clinicians about the concerns that Latino/Hispanic patients have regarding the coronavirus, challenges in seeking care, the importance of addressing the benefits of wearing face masks, and how to talk to patients about the vaccine,” says Almanzar. 

The UNM team has already delivered the workshop to emergency medicine residents at UNM, who were very satisfied with the training, reports Almanzar. Hospitals including the University of California at San Diego, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Texas, and the University of Iowa plan to use these materials for training purposes. The teaching tools will also soon be submitted to the AAMC MedEdPortal, a free educational journal published by the Association of American Medical Colleges for health care professionals.   

And Almanzar plans to deliver the one-hour presentation at one of the medical Spanish workshops NEOMED’s LMSA chapter will offer to NEOMED students this spring.  

“I am convinced that using even a simple word such as “Hola” (hello) in Spanish makes a big difference in stablishing rapport with patients,” says Almanzar. 

“For instance, one patient did not show up for his scheduled COVID-19 vaccine because he only speaks Spanish and did not understand the instructions, which were given in English. In this case, even if the written instructions had been given in Spanish, the patient did not know how to read. He needed clear verbal instructions in Spanish. I was very happy to be able to address my patient’s concerns about the vaccine and to provide clear guidance on his scheduled appointments.”

She added that in a separate project – a medical Spanish book/app being developed with NEOMED faculty and other students – she is putting together a COVID-19 session on instructions about these “simple” things – making appointments for the vaccine, providing instructions to patients about IVs, lab tests and so on.

In the meantime, Almanzar says it’s satisfying to have developed COVID-19 materials that have the power to teach clinicians about communicating with Spanish-speaking patients – and the potential to improve community health.