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Building Prosperous and Healthy Communities: Improving Access to Quality Care

October 13, 2022


Pollock_Rojas_ARCOM_410x300By Alex Pollock (left), MSB 2023, Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE); and Monica Rojas, MD, (right) Director of International Medicine and Cultural Education, ACHE, Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine

On August 17, 1988, Congress approved an amendment to Public Law 100-402, which now proclaims September 15-October 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month. This recognition allows us as a nation to celebrate and reflect on Hispanic heritage. This year our attention has been centered around “Building Prosperous and Healthy Communities.” Many factors can contribute to this, including healthcare, education and the environment, among others. Importantly, a healthy community is dependent on all its residents. For a community to be prosperous, there must be adequate education, access to quality healthcare, well-paying employment and health equity. However, each culture has its own perspectives/beliefs on each matter.  

First, quality healthcare is an important social determinant of health. In discussion, a common theme is the fact that many in the Hispanic community lack faith in health professionals. Some would rather look to herbal-medicinal options than spend money for a doctor to write a prescription. For our patients to prosper, we must establish trust. When working with patients, health professionals may find it helpful to take a moment to recognize cultural sensitivities. For example, common trends within the Hispanic community are diabetes and hypertension. When addressing diet, suggestions should be culturally appropriate. If a patient is told they can’t consume something their culture relies on, you can imagine it would be difficult to make a change. Further, interpreters are trusted to relay information from health professional to patient; often, patients’ children play the role of interpreter. Interpreters who are willing to take the time to explain every detail to the patient is the key to understanding. With chronic conditions such as the ones previously mentioned, it would prove beneficial for information to be explained in Spanish with basic terminology. As a matter of fact, all paperwork regarding care should be printed in the patient’s preferred language. Both cultural sensitivity and accurate interpretation and translation could also be achieved with increased Hispanic representation within the medical field. 

According to Excelencia in Education, 44 percent of Hispanic college students are first-generation. Our local college, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, has created several events this month with this in mind. Admissions has organized a specific recruitment event with mentors who speak Spanish to help students with Spanish speaking families realize that they aren’t alone in the process, allowing parents to be present and understand the college system as well. Mentorship of any sort is advantageous to students during their educational journey. Examples include navigating graduate level admissions, breaking stereotypes within school or how to secure educational resources regarding their socioeconomic status. A similar relationship could be valuable to high school students, who would benefit from guidance in applying for jobs or schools, interviewing and navigating the admissions process, among other areas. Additionally, Hispanic student-to-student mentorships would be extremely valuable for increased representation and to show Hispanic students that their goals are attainable. Investing in our success towards education will trigger a cascade, leading to healthier communities. Higher education leads to better jobs and benefits, and therefore to a healthier life, from better housing to being able to afford healthier options at the grocery store, increased involvement in sports/after school activities, more transportation options, etc.  

At the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, we are committed to making an impact on healthcare in our community, incorporating medical Spanish into the teaching modules. As Spanish is a widely spoken language in the United States, we believe that including medical Spanish into our classroom and exposing our students to Spanish words and phrases will help create better avenues of communication for our students with their future patients. To put this curriculum into practice, our students volunteer around the Hispanic community, performing clinics such as youth sports physicals, pap smears and vaccinations.  

An organization that has made it their mission to embody the idea of “Building Prosperous and Healthy Communities” is Arkansas United (AU). Their purpose is to supply resources in both English and Spanish to ensure health equity. Some services they provide include family legal services, adult education and Immigration Resource Centers (HQ and mobile). Further areas they are exploring are domestic violence assistance, business networking, scholarships and higher education for undocumented students, among others. AU also offers information for download, such as a “Know Your Rights Card,” how to handle ICE interactions, DACA information and much more. They have created a one stop shop to help Hispanic families navigate the adversities of daily life and become participating members of society.  

Every year, the Hispanic community has a 30-day platform to celebrate, educate and recognize all our contributions and importance to the diversity of the United States of America. For Hispanic communities to reach health equity, we must realize that the Spanish language is vital for complete patient understanding and crucial to establish trust. To increase Hispanic representation, we must focus on the education of our youth. Navigating each educational step with Spanish-speaking families in mind will help decrease the gap amongst first generation students. Lastly, more state-wide organizations such as Arkansas United will help Hispanic families navigate daily life and prosper in society. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Let’s continue to celebrate today and every day!