HSDA offers Spanish classes to GSDM students

The Hispanic Student Dental Association (HSDA) at Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine (GSDM) wants to bridge the language barrier between Spanish-speaking patients and English-speaking dental students.

“Having someone speak your language, and try to make that connection with you is so important,” said HSDA Vice President-Elect Cassandra Pierre-Jerome. “I think it goes a long way in terms of treatment, general trust and comfort and patient care.”

While the school offers translational services, Pierre-Jerome DMD 21 said if providers can speak Spanish—even just a few words—it can help establish trust with their Spanish-speaking patients.

To help GSDM students achieve that goal, HSDA offers Spanish classes two to three times a semester, focusing on phrases and words that are important to communicating with patients. The organization also provides translational guides focused on dental terminology.   

For providers, the ability to speak Spanish is a useful skill, especially considering how many individuals, both in Massachusetts and across the country, speak the language. In Massachusetts, Spanish is the most common language spoken after English, and across the U.S., 41 million people speak Spanish at home, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.

During a class held in February, Victoria Ramos DMD 21 and Karen Chileuitt DMD 22 stood in front of 12 GSDM students in a classroom in the Boston University Medical School Instructional Building. After a review of Spanish numbers and vowels, Ramos and Chileuitt took turns walking attendees through common phrases and words, stopping to offer tips and tricks for pronunciation.

“Our classes are structured in a way where we try to teach the basics, [as well as] what most students would need to speak Spanish with their patients,” said Ramos, who is HSDA president-elect. “We try to go over the pronunciation and answer any specific questions.”

In addition to Spanish classes, HSDA has created English-Spanish translational guides—which Ramos said is a first for dental schools.

“We are the first and only school to incorporate these guides,” she said. “Everybody loves them—they’re perfect for our patient treatment centers  and they’re laminated—it’s just a great resource to have handy.”