Friday, July 6, 2007


According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2000, roughly 17% of D.C. residents aged five years and older spoke a language other than English in the home. Of that 17%, nearly 55% spoke Spanish in the home. Nationally, the figures are similar with 18% of people aged five years and older speaking a language other than English in the home. Nearly 60% of those spoke Spanish in the home. Furthermore, a 2003 U.S. Census Bureau report on language use and English-speaking ability showed that nationwide, just over half of those who spoke a language other than English in the home indicated that they spoke English "Very well" (the other categories were "Well," "Not well," or "Not at all").

Being able to speak Spanish will help me during my medical education and career. This I know for sure. I have heard plenty of stories from friends in medical school about the difficulty of working with translators or of being the only person who is able to speak some Spanish and getting "stuck" with all the Spanish-speaking patients.

In addition to the gripes from some of my friends (and the gripes I've read on other medical students' blogs) there have been other moments that have reminded me of the key role I could play in the clinical setting. This past year of medical school, during our course on patient care and the practice of medicine, we discussed the many barriers to health care that immigrants face in Washington such as language, cultural, and economic barriers. The top three languages, after Spanish, that are most sought-after from medical professionals are French, African languages such as Amharic, and Chinese.

I did not always believe that being able to speak Spanish was an asset. In fact, from about age ten to fourteen it made me very self-conscious. During that time I was attending a private school full of rich kids; I wasn't rich. In my mind at the time, rich people didn't speak Spanish; only nannies and house-keepers and gardeners spoke Spanish. I wanted desperately to fit in with my classmates. I was young and foolish and ignorant.

I look forward to the day when I will be part of a Spanish-speaking patient's health care team. To be able to care for them in their native tongue will be a very proud moment for me.

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