July 28, 2006
Help is on the way for health-care workers who don’t know one word of Spanish but increasingly find themselves treating Latino patients.

In North Carolina, a team of representatives from state government health agencies and higher education has started work on a language course designed especially for them: “!A su salud! (meaning ‘To your health!’) Introductory Spanish for Health Professionals.”

Health-care workers will be able to take the course in traditional classrooms or on their own via distance learning. It will focus on Spanish specific to the work of nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, social workers and allied and public health professionals.

“The Latino population is growing rapidly, and health-care providers are crying out for ways to effectively serve them,” said project co-director Claire Lorch, a clinical instructor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “‘!A su salud!’ creatively speaks to the needs of both patients and providers.”

UNC’s Office of Distance Education and E-Learning Policy is leading the project, with team members from East Carolina University in Greenville, Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, the N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities and the N.C. Public Health Directors Association.

Filming began last week for the centerpiece of the course, a video designed to teach both language and Latino culture. The multimedia course will combine the video with interactive exercises, available on a DVD or online, and written text.

“Included in the multimedia materials will be a telenovela – an engaging story to motivate the adult learner,” Lorch said. Other parts of the video will present interviews with health-care professionals. The video will be mostly in Spanish, with English and Spanish subtitles available. Learners will get to know the Montoyas, an immigrant family, as they adapt to life in the United States.”

Demographic statistics demonstrate the need for the course:

  • North Carolina has the fastest growing Latino population in the country, increasing nearly 400 percent 1990-2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • In fiscal year 2005, 48 percent of babies born at UNC Hospitals were born to Latina women.
  • Requests for Spanish interpreters at UNC Hospitals grew from 7,000 in 2000 to more than 40,000 in 2004

“The need is astounding,” said Dr. Maria Clay, project co-director at ECU, the fiscal agent for the project. “We believe health-care providers around the state and the country will embrace this program with open arms, and that will be a major step toward relieving a situation that is fast becoming a crisis.”

The course will be modeled after an intermediate “!A su salud!” produced at UNC – also directed by Lorch – and published last year by Yale University Press. To date, 33 colleges and universities nationwide have adopted the course. (http://salud.unc.edu/).

The intermediate course was created first because of the urgent need for fluent Spanish speakers in health care settings, Lorch said: “Students with a background in Spanish become fluent more quickly than those with no knowledge of the language.”

The North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation contributed $720,000 for the course to ECU. Two additional grants came to UNC, from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina ($25,000) and The Aetna Foundation ($30,000), the charitable arm of the Connecticut-based health care insurance company.

The gifts to UNC count toward the $2 billion goal of Carolina First, a comprehensive, multi-year, private fund-raising campaign to support Carolina’s vision of becoming the nation’s leading public university.

Last year, the team filmed a pilot project for the new course, funded by the Office of the President of the 16-campus University of North Carolina. The team tested the pilot with a group of working professionals and students from health-care fields.

“We wanted to see whether the teaching approach would be effective, especially at a distance,” Lorch said. Now, the team is incorporating the group’s advice into development of the course.

The team plans to offer the introductory course at UNC, ECU and partner institutions by spring 2008 and then make it available for national distribution.

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For more information, contact Claire Lorch at 919-360-5369 or clorch@email.unc.edu, or Ramona DuBose at 919-966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.



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