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December 13, 2011

Medical Spanish course created for pre-med students

With the Hispanic population in the United States expected to nearly triple by 2050, a Baylor University linguist has developed a course tailored to meet the crucial need for medical professionals to cross language and cultural barriers.

In her classes, Dr. Karol Hardin, BSED '87, an assistant professor of Spanish in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences, blends medical terminology in Spanish with practical, everyday speaking and an emphasis on cultural differences -- including folk medicine and spirituality.

Hardin based the curriculum on her experience while working for four years in the rain forest in Ecuador alongside her husband, a family physician and former medical missionary. Hardin translated for medical volunteers and taught Spanish grammar classes.

The classes are taught almost completely in Spanish, with emphasis on oral proficiency and comprehension rather than simply memorizing medical terminology, Hardin said. While some students may establish practices overseas or become medical missionaries in Spanish-speaking countries, she said, those who stay in the United States would be wise to have a grasp of conversational medical Spanish to serve Hispanic patients, some of whom may speak little or no English.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the nation, according to U.S. Census data. The population grew from 35 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010, in part because of immigration. If trends continue, nearly 130 million Hispanics will live in the United States by 2050, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Of the nation's 10 cities with the highest Hispanic populations, four are in Texas: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

"I just want to be prepared," said Eric Cline, a Baylor junior who wants to be a surgeon. "I'm already pretty fluent in Spanish, and this is a review for me in grammar. But the emphasis is to cultivate a personal relationship with patients, and talking to them in their native language is more personal."