I was born and raised in East Los Angeles, where I was exposed to the “Chicano culture” at an early age. When I was in middle school, I would often visit my friend’s house after school. Her mom would only speak to me in Spanish and that forced me to learn the language really quick! However, I didn’t just learn words, she taught me the culture, and how to be “polite” in the family. To this day, I thank Mrs. Muñoz. She really helped me understand that communication is more than just through words, it’s a culture connected by heritage.
When I’m at a vision screening with Spanish speaking patients, I get really excited! I see it as an opportunity for me to put myself out there and try to make the eye exam as comfortable as possible for the patient. Sometimes when I look around at the non-Spanish speaking volunteers, I sense their discomfort from not knowing the “right” word in Spanish. I can’t help but think that the uncertainty in one’s voice could make the patient feel even more uncomfortable. To me, excellent patient care is through open communication and communication is only half verbal. Body language, posture, eye contact, all play a key part in excellent patient care!
There are three classes at UIWRSO that really helped me work with the non-English speaking populations.
Dr. James Chapman is faculty at UIWRSO and a man of many hats, but as a first year intern we were introduced to him as our Healthcare System and Communications professor. He asked if anyone in the class of 2016 knew what anthropology was – there wasn’t a big response. I majored in Anthropology in my undergrad. Dr. Chapman’s class Healthcare System/Communications to me was a mini crash course in cultural/social/linguistic anthropology. Students who never took a course may have thought “well isn’t this ‘obvious’ to treat patients a certain way?” Yes and no – there are international students, interns from across the nation and across different socioeconomic classes. This course really taught us to value excellent optometric patient care while respecting different cultural backgrounds.
The Orientation/Optometry/Ethics is a 1 unit course that was unique because we had guest speakers come talk about multiple subjects like compassion, justice, ethics and topics that I feel no other school will touch upon. Mrs. Kristine Benne is our lead instructor for this course and is also part of the Student Affairs team. The accreditation council dubbed UIWRSO’s Student Affairs office one of the best in the nation and I second that! She invited a philosophy professor, a nun, a politician, and leaders to give interactive lectures; although interns may or may not agree with the speakers’ point of view, I always enjoyed trying to understand their perspective and make sure that I treat different opinions with the utmost respect.
UIWRSO also offers an elective course called “Spanish for Optometrists” that is taught by Dr. Amalia Mondriguez and she is probably the sweetest lady I have ever met! Her smiles never end and her lessons were really effective in teaching Spanish. I liked how she always had something new planned to stimulate a different part of the brain and correlated it with the Spanish language. We had multiple icebreakers, played Bingo, performed skits, sang songs, and much more. She was also the Spanish teacher for our pharmacy school, so we learned some extra vocabulary in terms of common drugs and usage. UIWRSO currently only offers Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 in the summer, so the first years who went to break missed this opportunity, but the ones that stayed received an extensive Spanish vocab book and a new-found confidence communicating to Spanish-only speakers.
I am glad my school always makes interns go above and beyond and take extra classes that others may think as “unimportant” from the clinical point-of-view. When I have a patient in my chair I will always remember what these classes taught me!