Mayan Medical Aid
Medical Spanish
Photo: Mayan Medical Aid
Mayan Medical Aid's program changes everything: how participants learn; how medical care is delivered to poor people; and how this combination increases quality of life for everyone – no matter their cultural background.

What is Medical Spanish?

In the medical setting, we often try to rely on translators or on Spanish classes to get us through this communication conundrum. Unfortunately, translators hardly ever communicate the nuances of the question asked or what patients actually say. Moreover, taking Spanish classes does not mean being able to speak Spanish, and it particularly does not mean being able to speak Medical Spanish.

Even if we enter professional school knowing how to speak English, we still spend a great deal of time learning how to speak Medical English. The reason is that simply knowing how to speak English is not enough knowledge for taking a good medical history. We need to know which questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to interpret the answers to our questions.

The same is true of knowing only how to speak Spanish. It is necessary knowledge, but it is no where near sufficient knowledge to be able to speak Medical Spanish. Many people assume incorrectly than if they know Medical English, all they need to do in order to speak Medical Spanish is to learn Spanish.

But Medical Spanish is a completely different skill set from learning to speak Medical English. First, translating directly to Spanish from Medical English is not possible. The jargons of both skills run in parallel universes, with few intersections.

Second, much of Medical English involves the use of non–translatable slang (shortness of breath, crackles, etc.). This issue means that learning to speak Medical Spanish requires a) the recognition of which slang words are used in Medical English and b) the translation of those slang words into proper Medical English (difficulty breathing, rales, etc.).

Third, gaining expertise in Medical Spanish also means that one must learn to understand not simply the words patients say, but more important, what those words actually mean to these patients. For example, whereas "fiebre" translates to fever, it rarely means fever when our patients use that word.

In short, to speak Medical Spanish, one needs to learn to become an excellent communicator. The development of Spanish-language skills is only part of the battle. More critical is to learn superior Spanish communication skills.

Why Mayan Medical Aid?

What Mayan Medical Aid does is what no other organization has ever done – anywhere. For participants, Mayan Medical Aid's program combines five methods of learning into one incredible experience:

1) intensive didactic and clinical language

2) cultural and clinical medicine in rural clinics,

3) participation in clinical research studies,

4) development and implementation of health
education projects, and

5) public health betterment.

Each participant can embrace any or all of these aspects. The only limits for participants are their desires for learning and their openness to learning things that they have no idea that they don't know.

For patients, Mayan Medical Aid fulfills promises that others have made, but have not kept. Our patients receive medical consultations and medicines without cost - neither of which they otherwise would be able to afford.

As such, with the intervention of Mayan Medical Aid in their communities, their babies no longer have to die of infectious diarrhea; their pain from arthritis is minimized; their diabetes comes into control; their respiratory diseases receive appropriate and timely therapy; and their pain and suffering decrease to levels never before achieved by any other organization.

Language Training: Medical Spanish

The language training in Spanish makes participants acutely aware of how people from a different culture live, think, and develop their own expectations about life and medical care. Although the Spanish language teaching is oriented toward providing medical care to Spanish-speaking patients, the Spanish knowledge gained actually serves participants well in all venues in which they might need to speak this language.

Mayan Medical Aid teaches participants Spanish via an intensive and reiterative immersion. Teaching methods encompass a combination of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Resources and learning tools include the use of

a) integrated, actual and supervised patient encounters (no shadowing),

b) electronic charting in Spanish,

c) debriefing sessions,

d) cultural and language lectures,

e) electronic and paper educational materials,

f) interactive Internet learning tools, and

g) 10-20 social, medical, and cultural interactions per day.

One incredibly great part of the program is how it teaches participants to speak Spanish. We have thrown standard methods out the window. Instead, participants learn how to speak Spanish in the same way that primary Spanish speakers learn to speak.

Think about it. When you learned to speak English, did you first learn tons of grammar rules and how to conjugate hundreds of verbs into fourteen tenses?

Not a chance! As such, our program specifically does not emphasize grammar or how to conjugate verbs. In fact, we are anti-conjugation.

We teach you how to put sentences together and how to train your brain to concentrate on speaking Spanish. We don't believe in wasting your time memorizing things or conjugating verbs in ways that primary Spanish speakers just don't.

Simply put, we cut to the core of learning. And we make the process a good time.
Craig A. Sinkinson 2016
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