2016: Vicky Weston, MD, Ecela Spanish Schools Chile/Argentina

Thank you to the Spirit of 2010 for providing me with the opportunity to attend the Ecela Spanish Schools in South America. The ability to pursue this type of training was a rare experience and provided skills that will be invaluable over my career.

Prior to enrolling in medical school, I had studied Spanish for several years in school, but had not had the opportunity to receive formalized Spanish language instruction since college. Next year, I will be working in a community with a significant Spanish-speaking population – I wanted to make sure that I can easily communicate with my patients.

For my elective experience, I attended courses through the Ecela Spanish schools in Chile and Argentina. This experience provided a cultural and language immersion with training through a well-established, structured Spanish immersion course. The program set-up involved several small group lessons with a focus on grammar and fluency, followed by conversation classes led by an instructor. During the conversation classes, we would focus on the concepts learned in the preceding grammar class. I also took several hours of semi-private lessons with an emphasis on medical vocabulary, history taking, and the physical exam. In addition, we practiced consenting for procedures, describing medical treatments, and answering patient questions. Our instructors also took the time to focus on some important cultural aspects of communication that are unique to Spanish. In addition, we discussed common cultural practices and customs, as well as colloquial or slang terms that patients may commonly use.

One of the benefits of being in an immersion setting is that you are speaking Spanish for the entire day – not just in class. As a consequence, you improve much more rapidly than in a typical class setting. In addition, learning Spanish in two different countries (with vastly different cultures and accents, despite being geographically adjacent) was incredibly useful. I feel that this will help me to better understand and communicate with Spanish speaking patients from different parts of Central or South America.

I learned a great deal through the courses and felt that my fluency improved to a significant degree. Since returning, I have noted a significant improvement in my ability to use Spanish on shift. One patient in particular stands out – she gave me a hug at the end of her visit and told me how grateful and relieved she was that her doctor spoke Spanish. I hope to use the skills I have gained to provide the best possible patient care both next year and throughout my career.

Thank you again to the Class of 2010 for supporting this rare opportunity and incredible learning experience.

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