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UNC Medical Students Working To Bridge Language Gap

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — At UNC Hospitals, Ruben Gonzalez is in demand all day long. He is not a doctor or a nurse; Gonzalez is a Spanish translator.

"Having them around makes a huge difference considering how many Hispanic patients we see," physician Luke Seidensticker said. "To be able to have them around to bridge the gap, so we can treat them as equally as well without having language be a barrier, is a huge advantage."

The translators are available around the clock, seven days a week.

"Having a medical Spanish interpreter for someone who doesn't understand English is crucial," said Laura Mathew, R.N.

Everyone agrees that the Spanish translators are a necessity. Last year, the program received over 15,000 calls for help with translations, which could be part of the reason why some medical students at UNC have decided to get ahead of the game by taking a medical Spanish language course.

So far, about 90 students have taken the course.

"The students, overall, have been very, very interested. We have so many students that signed up for the course, we are expanding the course," said Dr. Marco Aleman, an assistant professor at UNC.

The course could eventually become a requirement for medical students.

"As physicians, it's our duty to make sure we understand our patients and treat them with respect and humanity no matter what their language differences are," Aleman said.

Spanish is not a requirement at any of the Triangle's medical schools; however, Dartmouth College has added Spanish to its residency program's required curriculum.


Emily Lopez, Reporter
Chris Ray, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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