Oct. 7, 2021 — Medical student Cathy Paciotti said growing up with close ties to her neighbors in Medellín, Colombia, ingrained in her the importance of community.
“There’s a strong sense of community in my culture and other Hispanic cultures,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field, to help others the way my neighbors and peers helped me.”
At the University of Florida College of Medicine, nearly 11% of students identify as Hispanic or Latinx, according to university enrollment data. During Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, students and faculty are reflecting on what it means to be Hispanic or Latinx and working in the medical field.
Language is one of the defining factors of different cultural groups because it facilitates communication. More than half a billion people speak Spanish globally, making it the second most commonly spoken language worldwide after Mandarin.
The Latino Medical Student Association, or LMSA, where Paciotti serves as co-president along with second-year medical student Eddie Velazquez Jr., hosts Spanish language workshops as one way to promote equal access to health care for a group that is often marginalized.
In the workshops, students who are more fluent in Spanish help others practice phrases and words that might come up when speaking with a patient.
“We won’t make you fluent, but if you can say ‘Hi, my name is Eddie and I’m going to be your doctor,’ to a patient or understand when they say ‘I am in pain,’ it can help make them feel more comfortable in what can be an intimidating situation,” Velazquez said.
Paciotti said it’s important to let the patient know you’re here for them, even if an interpreter will be brought in to ensure they are fully understood.
“I am happy interpreters are beginning to become more commonplace and normalized in health care spaces,” she said.
Both Velazquez and Paciotti said this is a great first step toward providing more equalized health services to different populations. Another important action is to increase the number of Hispanic and Latinx health care providers.
“There is something so personal about a physician being able to tell you in your own language about a health issue and make suggestions,” Paciotti said. “People are more likely to trust you when you look like them, and that can help health care workers better reach underserved populations.”
Velazquez said having more diversity in the medical field also inspires the next generation of physicians and other health care workers.
“We become interested in careers that we can see ourselves doing,” he said. “So seeing other Hispanic physicians in my life lets me know that’s something someone from my background can aspire to.”