September 9, 2022

Growing Medicine in Spanish program for UMMS students set to kick-off 22-23 session

Three years since its re-introduction, a student-driven Medicine in Spanish program at UMMS is thriving.

Leaders of the Medicine in Spanish program at a recent informational meeting ahead of the 2022-23 session. From left: Stephanie Laureano (M2), Oliver Gatonez (Instructor), Anthony Rios (M4), and Natalie Vela (M3).


With increased participation, a newly launched companion clinical elective, and a prominent role in a national study examining effectiveness of Medical Spanish curricula, the initiative has come a long way in short time – un largo camino en poco tiempo.

“I think for all of us, these last few years have emphasized that we all have a role to play in the equitable distribution of healthcare. The people I worked with on this hold that value close to their hearts and looked at this as a small investment to ensure that patients get appropriate care,” said recent UMMS graduate Bobby Porter, MD, now a Neurology resident a Mass General in Boston. Porter started the program in 2018.

“Every step of the way, I’ve been inspired by my peers and the U-M community who’ve been so willing to support us. Whenever we needed help with anything, someone was there,” he said.

Participation has grown from about a dozen students in the first year to 25 in the most recent cohort. Monthly instructor-led sessions are supplemented by weekly small-group gatherings as participants apply their conversational Spanish-language skills to aspects of medicine: taking patient histories, hearing and interpreting various health complaints, conducting common types of examinations, and so on. Social and cultural considerations impacting the Hispanic community are also discussed.

The course was co-developed with Manuel Valdivieso, MD, an Adjunct Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine, who led the program for the past three years and connected participants (via video conference) to patients at an outpatient clinic he directs in his native Peru.

“It has been gratifying to be involved and to see the number of participants rise over the past few years,” Valdivieso said. “Learning Medical Spanish is a positive experience for the students, and a necessary skill – as they enter their careers they are going to see Spanish-speaking patients, no matter where they practice.”

The 2020 US census estimated the number of Latinx residents in the country at more than 62 million, up from about 50 million a decade earlier. The demographic shift is driving many medical schools to incorporate medical Spanish programming into their curricula. One recent survey of US medical schools found that 78% of institutions offer some form of medical Spanish programming.

Earlier this year, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Katherine Hughey, the program’s chief faculty advisor, piloted a new elective, incorporating a student into her predominantly Spanish-language clinical practice in Ypsilanti. The participant also worked with the clinic’s nurses making follow-up phone calls to Spanish-speaking patients. 

“In general, matriculating medical students right now are keenly aware that practicing good medicine is more than just having a good understanding of biomedical processes,” Hughey said. “They recognize that language skills – and diverse language skills – are just as important as clinical examination skills.”

In 2020, UMMS joined a Medical Spanish Standardized Curriculum Study. Run out of the University of Illinois, the project seeks to assess Medicine in Spanish programs for best practices, including curricular elements, structure and participant skills evaluation.

“It is rare to be involved in a national multi-site study like that,” Hughey said. “For us, it means we are involved from the very ground-floor level in the national conversation around how we equip people to care for a changing population.”