Dealing with Patients
As a medical professional you probably know by now that no two patients are the same. This is also going to be true from your Spanish-speaking patients. It is likely that you will meet people from different countries, backgrounds, and age groups. Everybody will have a different story. Some may speak basic English; others may not speak a word. For some, this may be their first visit to an English-speaking doctor. It is important not to make any assumptions. First, assess the situation. Remember that there are hundreds of possibilities. Here are some useful phrases to get you started:
Do you speak English?
I speak a little bit of Spanish.
Yo hablo un poco de español.
yoh AH-bloh oon POH-coh deh ehs-pah-NYOL
I have a Spanish phrase book.
Tengo un libro de frases en español.
TEHN-goh oon LEE-broh deh FRAH-sehs ehn ehs-pah-NYOL
Which do you prefer, English or Spanish?
¿Qué prefiere, inglés o español?
keh preh-fee-EH-reh, een-GLEHS oh ehs-pah-NYOL
Breaking the Ice
Some older patients may come accompanied by younger relatives who speak English. While this may be helpful for communication, remember to address the older relatives as well. You can show them respeto (rehs-PEH-toh), respect, by using some basic greetings in Spanish.
Most people love to talk about where they come from. Asking Spanish-speaking patients about their country of origin is a great way to break the ice, and it will help you make some of your vocabulary choices.
Where are you from?
¿De dónde es usted? (when addressing one person)
Deh DOHN-deh ehs oos-TEHD
Where are you from?
¿De dónde son ustedes? (when addressing more than one person)
Deh DOHN-deh sohn oohs-TEH-dehs
In our fast-paced society, at times we confuse efficiency with good manners. However, in many Spanish-speaking cultures, warm and courteous social interactions are highly valued. Spend a few minutes breaking the ice and establishing a relationship with your patient.
Remember that in Spanish you have the choice to include or omit the subject. In the first example above, usted is the subject, so you could say ¿De dónde es? or ¿De dónde es usted? Here are some possible answers:
I am from Argentina.
Soy de Argentina.
soy deh ahr-hen-TEE-nah
We are from Mexico.
Somos de México.
SOH-mohs deh MEH-hee-coh
Another way of saying where you are from is Soy, followed by the adjective that describes nationality.
I am Spanish.
Soy española. (female)
I am Puerto Rican.
Soy puertorriqueño. (male)
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 64 percent of people of Hispanic origin in the United States are of Mexican descent, 10 percent are of Puerto Rican descent, and about 3 percent are of Cuban, Salvadoran, or Dominican descent.
Note that adjectives describing nationality usually have a feminine form that ends in –a, and a masculine form that ends in –o. The exception is with adjectives ending in –e, such as estadounidense (from the United States), which is used for both men and women.
I am from the United States.
In Spanish, adjectives of nationality are not capitalized. Note also that noun and adjectives need to agree in gender and number. If you are talking about more than one person, add an –s for the plural: peruano (masculine, singular), peruanos (masculine, plural)
We are Peruvian.