New Baylor Certificate Program Aims to Increase Spanish Proficiency Among Future Healthcare Professionals

Arts & Sciences News

May 1, 2018
By Randy Fiedler

In response to a growing need for American healthcare professionals who are able to speak Spanish on the job, Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences has created a new certificate program that gives students concentrated instruction in medical Spanish.

The new Certificate in Spanish for Healthcare Professions, the first certificate program offered by the College of Arts & Sciences, was created partly in response to student demand. It requires nine semester hours in Spanish instruction beyond what is needed to fulfill the foreign language requirement for a bachelor’s degree, but the total hours of Spanish coursework needed to earn a certificate is less than the 18 hours required for a minor in Spanish.

“We understand that a lot of students interested in healthcare don’t have room in their curriculum to earn a second major or even a minor in Spanish. But with the certificate, we can reward those students who do go on and take a few more classes,” said Dr. Alex McNair, associate professor of Spanish and division director for Spanish and Portuguese Languages. “The certificate program allows students to solidify their skills with the language before they get to medical school and have that reflected on their transcripts. Our goal is to have more health professionals in the future with higher levels of Spanish proficiency.”

To earn a Certificate in Spanish for Healthcare Professions, students must complete SPA 2321 (Intermediate Spanish for Medical Professions), which is also one of the courses than can be used to fulfill the foreign language requirements for a bachelor’s degree. Students seeking a certificate must also earn a grade of “B” or better in two additional required classes of three semester hours apiece –– SPA 3302 (Conversation and Composition) and a new course, SPA 4321 (Spanish for Medical Professions II).

Students will earn the final three semester hours required for the certificate by taking one of three possible courses –– SPA 3305 (Introduction to Hispanic Literature), SPA 3309 (Introduction to Spanish Linguistics) or SPA 3311 (Spanish-American Civilization). They must also complete a healthcare-related project of their choice approved by their instructor.

Dr. Karol Hardin, an associate professor of Spanish who is married to a family physician and former medical missionary, updated Baylor’s intermediate medical Spanish course in 2011 to make it more conversational and attuned to real-life situations. She now teaches both of the medical Spanish courses required for the new certificate, which she said is designed to support healthcare professionals who will be providing primary care and coming into direct contact with patients.

“By using role play and other tools, we acquaint students with situations that would pop up ordinarily in their practice, such as taking a patient’s medical or personal history or asking about pain,” Hardin said. “Of course, we incorporate a lot of instruction in grammar and medical vocabulary, but the whole focus is practical and oral –– listening to patients and taking their culture into account. We want students to be able to put themselves in a patient’s situation, understand that patient and speak to them in an appropriate way.”

Hardin said that because of the rapid projected growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, coupled with a shortage of Spanish interpreters, it’s more important than ever that healthcare providers gain a basic level of understanding of the Spanish language and Hispanic culture.

“We know from research that Spanish-speaking patients are more likely to return to the doctor and do follow-ups if they feel that have a connection to the doctor,” Hardin said. “And if the doctor speaks the same language, there are all kinds of studies showing better outcomes for patients.”

Aaron Murillo-Ruiz, a senior biochemistry major in the certificate program, has a long-range goal of practicing family medicine in a Spanish-speaking region of Texas. He grew up speaking Spanish because his family is originally from Mexico, and said that his experience as a Spanish interpreter has reinforced his belief that it’s important for healthcare providers to communicate with as many people as possible.

“I’ve been able to see the differences in relationships when both the patient and physician can speak the same language. Whenever the patient is speaking Spanish with the doctor and the doctor is speaking Spanish back, it’s a fluid conversation,” Murillo-Ruiz said. “The patients tend to be generally more open and honest about what’s going on with them.”

Senior University Scholar and prehealth student Sarah Heady was encouraged by her physician father to enroll in the medical Spanish certificate program.

“My dad always tells me that the biggest regret he has as a physician is that he never learned Spanish, because he has so many Spanish-speaking patients,” Heady said. “I may not have the ability to be an official interpreter by the time I complete the certificate program at Baylor, but it will help me to communicate with my own patients, and to understand what an interpreter is saying. Having the ability to speak Spanish will also help me to build trust with my Hispanic patients.”

The medical Spanish certificate program is designed to allow students to practice what they’re learning as part of their coursework.

“We try to partner with health-related entities in the Waco community to give our students the opportunity to use their Spanish,” Hardin said. “My students have volunteered with Spanish-speaking patients who are filling out insurance forms, with hospice patients, on mission trips and with a Spanish-speaking church group. The students also get to observe Spanish-speaking employees and interpreters at Waco-area clinics to hear Spanish in context.”

Murillo-Ruiz appreciates Hardin’s efforts to give students exposure to real-life situations.

“The real-life focus of her class really helps to solidify our knowledge,” he said. “She brings in actual doctors to talk about healthcare problems that are faced by Hispanic patients, and we get that little bit of background on what types of patients we’ll be working with and what to expect with them. Through our partnership with the Family Health Center, we get to go in and shadow the Spanish-speaking doctors when they have Spanish-speaking patients. We learn about it in the classroom, and we get to see it in real life.”

The first two students to complete the requirements for the Certificate in Spanish for Healthcare Professions will graduate from Baylor in May 2018. For more information on the program, contact Dr. Karol Hardin at

Are you looking for more News?