Buenas tardes. ¿En qué le puedo ayudar? If you could understand that, you might be one of the 35 million people living in the United States who identify Spanish as their primary language. If you couldn’t, then you just might be getting a sense of what so many in this country experience when they meet with their healthcare provider.

As physician assistants we took an oath to “recognize and promote the value of diversity” while upholding the “dignity of all human beings.” While being bilingual isn’t required in order to honor those values, making a small effort can go a long way.

However, it’s important to understand that even the best of intentions can be misunderstood. The advent of telecommunications makes professional translators available practically anywhere in the world. Whether communicating by phone, video or on location, health-care providers should utilize a professional interpreter whenever possible.

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But what can you do right now to reach out to Spanish-speaking patients? Set a goal to conduct a brief physical exam asking only “yes/no” questions. Don’t bother with the grammar, just learn phrases and perfect your pronunciation.

You can also check out the reference book, Working Spanish for Medical Professionals by Stacie McEniry, which offers a step-by-step pronunciation guide, or the free website Medical Spanish for Healthcare Providers. Smartphone users may consider downloading the Spanish-English dictionary app, SpanishDict by Curiosity Media, or Spanish lessons tailored specifically for health-care providers from the Medical Spanish Podcast by Molly Martin, MD. Both are available at no charge.

Having lived outside of the United States, I’ve experienced firsthand how difficult life can be when you can’t communicate. It can be downright terrifying! But as I’ve progressed through clinical rotations and now my practice in a rural area, I’ve also seen how grateful Spanish-speaking patients are when you make an effort to reach out — even if it’s only a small one.

Russell Singleton, PA-C, practices family medicine at Tripp Family Medicine and Shoshone Family Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho. He has spent time volunteering with the Red Cross, as well as several free clinics in Southern Idaho. Russel speaks fluent Spanish.