Teaching Spanish to Emergency Medicine Residents


*PhD Office of Medical Education Room M230, Mail Route 1 Stanford University School of Medicine Stanford, CA 94305–5336


Objective: To determine the effects of teaching medical Spanish to eight PGY1 emergency medicine residents on their subsequent interactions with Spanish-speaking patients.

Methods: Eight PGY1 residents completed a 45-hour medical Spanish course administered during their first residency month. Thirty-four subsequent physician-patient interactions by these residents were audiotaped over a six-month period at a suburban teaching ED. The tapes were transcribed and analyzed for errors by a professional medical Spanish interpreter and a native Spanish speaker.

Results: Minor errors (e.g., technically incorrect grammar or vocabulary with generally appropriate patient understanding) were found in more than half of the interactions and major errors (e.g., misunderstanding duration of symptoms, misunderstanding of vocabulary) were found in 14% of the interactions. In addition, although the course was designed to supplement, not replace, professional interpreters, the residents called for an interpreter only 46% of the time.

Conclusion: Although medical language courses may be a useful adjunct to interpreters, they are not designed to replace them. Significant errors may occur when participants in such courses assume their knowledge is sufficient to obtain a good history, give patient release instructions, and provide medical care in general without an interpreter present.