Idaho State University First in Nation to Offer Medical Spanish Degree

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Updated: 7/23/2013 1:08 pm

Over the last 10 year's Idaho's Latino population has grown by nearly 63 percent. With that increase in population comes an increase in demand for bilingual health care providers. This fall, Idaho State University will launch country's first four year program to meet that need.

"This is an opportunity that our students are going to have that they won't get anywhere else," said Associate Professor of Spanish Dr. Helen Tarp.

Dr. Tarp has spent the last two years trying to provide that unique opportunity for her students. Her hard work was rewarded this spring when the State Board of Education approved her proposal to add Spanish for Health Professions to the many degree programs at ISU. The program isn't only new to the university, it's the first of its kind in the country.

"It's exciting but there is pressure because we have to do this right," explained Dr. Tarp. "When you are the first person to do something and it doesn't go right then all you are going to hear for the next hundred years is we tried that and it didn't work."

The program has three core areas; language, culture and health sciences. The goal is to help students interested in a career in health care to better understand their non-English speaking patients.

"Not knowing how to communicate in English with their health care provider is like being a mute. They can't hear because they don't understand what they are hearing and they can't speak because they can't speak the language," said Sonia Martinez, Executive Director of the Latino Economic and Development Center in Blackfoot.
LEAD stresses the importance of communication between patients and their care providers. ESL teachers at the center include medical terminology in their curriculum and they applaud ISU's efforts to introduce this new program.

"It's very empowering that they can communicate at some level with their provider," said Martinez. "I think it also is a respect to them that the medical field meets them halfway and maybe be able to communicate with them in their own language. So between both of them, one being the patient and the other being the healthcare provider, that they can have that level of communication that's effective."

That effective communication is critical to saving lives, and Dr. Tarp hopes this program will give some health providers the tools to do just that.

"I want them to come out with the recognition of the importance of another human being and recognizing their value and their worth," she said.

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