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Bridging language barriers to healthcare


She met her new friends for the first time on the sixth floor of Greenville Memorial Hospital. And when they saw some of the first pictures of their newest family member, McKenna Luzynski ’18 was there to share their joy.

“I got to see the ultrasound and watch the mom interact with the sonographer and the interpreter,” said Luzynski, a health sciences major from Roanoke, Va. “It was special.”

As part of her May Experience course at Furman, Luzynski spent 12 hours with Spanish-speaking families over a three-day period, shadowing interpreters on the job in Greenville Memorial Hospital’s labor and delivery areas, the emergency room, and in general patient rooms.

For the 12 students in Assistant Professor of Spanish Maria Rippon’s Medical Spanish class, the three-week experience provided a glimpse into their future careers in medicine or other health-related fields.

Medical Spanish, offered at Furman for the second time this year, provided an introduction to the specialized vocabulary of the healthcare professions used for taking a medical history, conducting a physical exam, and discussing pharmaceuticals, nutrition, and various infirmities. Each student also created electronic resources for persons learning medical Spanish, such as pocket vocabulary guides and introductory language videos.

Guest speakers from GHS, role-playing activities, video clips, and readings were all part of the course, co-taught by Rippon’s sister, Dr. Mary Rippon, a surgical oncologist with Greenville Health System University Medical Group.

Greenville Health System’s Language Services Department has more than 40 medical interpreters who provide translation services in person, over the phone, or by video to hospitals, outpatient facilities, and doctors’ offices, according to the GHS website. It also employs an in-house team of translators who translate medical documents into Spanish for patients.

In addition to learning real world use of the language, Professor Rippon said she hoped to teach her students empathy in dealing with real people with real struggles.

“I’d like them to see that their community is larger than Furman,” said Rippon, who previously taught a May X course on Social Justice and Immigration which gave Furman students the opportunity to assist immigrants in preparing to take the civics test for naturalization.

Ryan Hall ’17 of Birmingham, Ala., has been taking Spanish classes since middle school and is planning a career in medicine.

“I was very interested to see how the hospital used Spanish,” said Hall. “It’s so important to understand the culture and background of each patient. You want to make the person feel as comfortable as possible.”

This class was a perfect combination of his interests, said Hall, a double major in neuroscience and Spanish. “It’s also something you wouldn’t normally get to experience,” he said.

Luzynski described the course as “right up my alley.” After earning her degree from Furman, Luzynski hopes to become a medical interpreter while completing a graduate school program in global epidemiology.

“It really confirmed what I want to do,” she said. “After taking this class, I feel like I’ve made the right decision.”

Furman is GHS’s primary undergraduate partner in GHS Clinical University, a new alliance between one of the Southeast’s largest healthcare systems and three area academic institutions that develops and administers programs for undergraduate college students who are interested in pursuing health careers.

Learn more about the May Experience program.

Pictured above: GHS interpreter and Furman alumna Maria Johnson (center) with a patient and GHS staff member.

Last updated July 22, 2015
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director