Professor uses language to reduce health care disparities

For six years, Dr. Adolfo Campoy-Cubillo, an associate professor at Oakland University, has been teaching Spanish Language and Culture for Health Care Professionals (SPN 3580).

This course was designed to help students achieve an intermediate level in Spanish while placing a special emphasis on oral communication in areas related to health care.

“I thought it was important to do a 3000 level course because when a healthcare professional is working with a patient, you want to go beyond the initial rapport that you develop by making a quick introduction in Spanish, Campoy-Cubillo said. “You want to be able to actually assess what the perception of the patient is when it comes to their own disease and how they react to it and how they perceive their pain.

The course not only concentrates on medical terminology and improving Spanish oral communication skills, but it also focuses on developing a cross-cultural understanding as well.

“Cultural scripts and cultural responses to disease and health are not unique to minorities in the United States, Campoy-Cubillo said. “Everybody has a cultural response to health and disease, and when we approach cross-cultural work from that perspective, I think it’s more efficient.”

“When we understand that we’re not just looking at the exception of the patient that has a cultural response — we look at a cultural response as something patients do, Campoy-Cubillo said. “We all have cultural responses to disease and health.”

Dr. Campoy-Cubillo also stressed the importance of taking other Spanish courses to learn about Latin American countries’ culture, politics and to remain current on health-related issues pertaining to those countries.

“A doctor wouldn’t think of going to see a patient without taking into consideration the added stress of what COVID-19 brings to the patient, Campoy-Cubillo said. “Imagine when you have a patient that comes from any Spanish-speaking country. If you’re not aware of what’s going on in that country and where that person is coming from, you’re missing half of the picture.”

This course helps students lay down a strong foundation in medical Spanish to build upon, assists with improving cross-cultural skills, and raises awareness on language barriers in health care for Hispanic and Latino patients. In a time when health care disparities are so starkly apparent for individuals of color and Hispanic and Latinx communities, this class starts the process of bridging those gaps.

“I think by raising awareness and preparing the student at an intermediate or advanced level of Spanish, you have the students understand that you need to have a high level of competence to conduct your business in the language,Campoy-Cubillo said. “Every step counts. You cannot win the war with one step. Every step you take in that direction is positive and helpful, he said.

Spanish Language and Culture for Health Care Professionals is offered during the fall semester.

For more information about SPN 3580, email [email protected].