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Elementary Spanish for Health Care gives healthcare majors a huge advantage:  the ability to close the communication gap.

For today’s healthcare professionals, knowing how to communicate in Spanish is as important as a knowledge of biology. Medicine, dental hygiene, and nutrition and dietetics are just some of the fields where they will encounter many Spanish-speaking colleagues and patients.

Recognizing this need, UNH has launched Elementary Spanish for Health Care I and II. The courses, created by Alessia Dalsant, a lecturer in the Modern Languages program, give students both general verbal and written Spanish language skills and also the specific vocabulary for their chosen field.

"Everything is done in clinical settings with relevant vocabulary for body parts, diseases, and other particulars," she explains.

The vast majority of Dalsant’s students are majoring in dental hygiene and nutrition and dietetics. Dalsant addresses these fields by developing role-playing exercises that incorporate the relevant vocabulary. For example, one exercise may start with "So-and-so needs a root canal." The students take it from there, creating a dialogue that starts with interviewing the patient and then rehearsing an entire scenario in front of the class. At the end of the course, students will take an oral exam for which they must immerse themselves in a given situation without reading from a script.

Written skills are also part of the coursework, as students need to know how to fill out the various forms and documents related to their field.

The courses place a strong emphasis on the cultural aspect as well, familiarizing students with the traditions and mores that go beyond mere language skills. These unspoken customs can include such realities as the curandero — the traditional Native American healer that many Spanish-speaking natives hold in high esteem, or pudor — the shyness that some Latin American females feel about going to the doctor. Healthcare professionals must be sensitive to these realities and learn how to work with them.

Where does UNH stack up in relation to other colleges and universities offering similar courses? At the top. Catholic University in Washington, D.C. has two programs that grant certificates, and Yale has an advanced course for those who already speak Spanish, but, overall, not many higher education institutions in the U.S. are providing dedicated courses that answer the need for healthcare professionals to know Spanish.

Right now the UNH courses are only in their first semester, but Dalsant wants to continue breaking ground. First on her to do-list: creating two intermediate-level courses, so students can become even more conversant. But she's also envisioning a whole range of other possibilities. "This is a Master Plan program," she says enthusiastically. "There are other fields besides health care where Spanish language skills are critical — criminal justice, forensics, and fire science, just to name three. I also envision UNH eventually granting a certificate. Having this Spanish-language skill will help UNH graduates move to the front of the line when applying for jobs."

"At the end of the day, it's I who learn from my students," she says in conclusion. "I'll adapt these courses to whatever their needs are and whatever will most help them succeed."
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