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Pieces of Eight

ECU physician assistant Maria-Angelica Taylor examines Paola Carreno at the ECU Pediatric Outpatient Center. With more Spanish-speaking patients in the region, a new course aims to help health care workers learn the language. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Program Helps Health Care Workers Learn Spanish

By Jeannine Manning Hutson

Help is on the way for health-care workers who don’t know Spanish but increasingly find themselves treating Latino patients.

In North Carolina, a team of representatives from state government health agencies and higher education is working on a language course designed especially for them: “¡A su salud! (To your health!) Introductory Spanish for Health Professionals.”

Health-care workers will be able to take the course in traditional classrooms or via distance learning. It will focus on Spanish specific to the work of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, social workers and allied and public health professionals.

“The Latino population is growing rapidly, and health-care providers are crying out for ways to effectively serve them,” said project co-director Claire Lorch, a clinical instructor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “‘¡A su salud!’ creatively speaks to the needs of both patients and providers.”

UNC’s Office of Distance Education and E-Learning Policy is leading the project, with team members from East Carolina University, Wake Technical Community College, the N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and the N.C. Public Health Directors Association.

Filming began in July for the centerpiece of the course, a video designed to teach language and Latino culture. The multimedia course will combine the video with interactive exercises, available on a DVD or online, and written text.

Included in the multimedia materials will be a telenovela, a story to motivate the adult learner. Other parts of the video will present interviews with health-care professionals. The video will be mostly in Spanish, with English and Spanish subtitles available. Learners will get to know the Montoyas, an immigrant family, as they adapt to life in the United States.

Demographic statistics demonstrate the need for the course:

• North Carolina has the fastest growing Latino population in the country, increasing nearly 400 percent from 1990 to 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

• In fiscal year 2005, 48 percent of babies born at UNC Hospitals were born to Latina women.

• Requests for Spanish interpreters at the Brody School of Medicine are running about 40,000 to 50,000 a year, double the amount just two or three years ago.

• The Brody School of Medicine has six full-time intepreters and four student interpreters during the school year.

“The need is astounding,” said Dr. Maria Clay, project co-director at ECU, the fiscal agent for the project. “We believe health-care providers around the state and the country will embrace this program with open arms, and that will be a major step toward relieving a situation that is fast becoming a crisis.”

The course will be modeled after an intermediate “¡A su salud!” produced at UNC and published last year by Yale University Press. To date, 33 colleges and universities have adopted the course.

The North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation contributed $720,000 for the course to ECU. Two additional grants came to UNC, from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina ($25,000) and The Aetna Foundation ($30,000).

The team plans to offer the introductory course at UNC, ECU and partner institutions by spring 2008 and then make it available for national distribution. More information is available at

This page originally appeared in the Sept. 1, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at