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Fronteras: New St. Edward's University program trains bilingual students to fill the healthcare language vacuum

Language barriers present obstacles to Latino communities across the U.S. — especially to immigrant communities.

A lack of bilingual medical professionals in healthcare settings can make it difficult for Spanish-speaking patients to express themselves. Even if doctors and counselors are bilingual, it doesn’t ensure they have the vocabulary or training needed to effectively communicate with their patients.

A new certificate program at St. Edward’s University in Austin is one of several across Texas that aims to bridge that gap.

Starting this fall, the university will offer a certificate program in Advanced Spanish for Health and Helping Professions.

The course will prepare bilingual or advanced second-language students with the training they need to provide effective treatment with technical vocabulary and cultural knowledge.

Georgia Seminet, associate Professor of Spanish at St. Edward’s University, is among the staff who has led the efforts to create the program.

“Studies have shown that sometimes bilingual students in field work … don't have the confidence to explain things or carry out their tasks in Spanish,” she said. “We're hoping the certificate can take students who are already bilingual and offer them training in Spanish that will fill in the gaps.”

Cristina Thornell, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at St. Edward’s University and developer of the university’s first Introduction to Counseling in Spanish course, also emphasized the importance of the program.

“If someone is processing a traumatic event in therapy that happened in Spanish, but they're using their second language, there's something lost there,” she said. “That's when working with a bilingual client and a bilingual counselor [helps].”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Marian Navarro produces for Texas Public Radio's Morning Edition and Fronteras.