medical Spanish in the ER

I’m four shifts away from being done with my ER rotation! It’s been a rough transition not only due to the 12 hours shifts, but also based on the fact that it is my very first rotation…and there is so much still to be learned! In addition to all the medicine stuff, knowledge of medical Spanish is a MUST in the ER I work in. I would say half to a little more than half of the patients I see are Spanish-only speakers. Translators are super easy to call, come super fast, and are super great where I work, but with that high of a Spanish-only speaking population, nothing beats whipping out your skills the moment when you get a negative after you ask “Do you speak English?”. And even more than that, it adds a level of trust and rapport between you and your patients. It’s more comfortable for them to speak in their native language to you than through a translator. This becomes particularly important when the patient is being seen for a difficult or vulnerable issue. I get that sometimes it’s just not possible to get all that you need from an interview if your Spanish is not top-notch, but I have seen it make all the difference for me just to try at least to speak a little Spanish.

So over the past 2 and a half weeks, the confusing mix of Italo-Spanish that comes out of my mouth when I try for Spanish has greatly improved. I’m fairly competent at this point at taking a history and doing a physical exam in Spanish. I have problems when the patient tends to ramble or is having difficulty straight answering the question I’m asking or if they have difficulty slowing down their Spanish. But I’ve got my questions down pat. It’s also difficult for me if I try to explain the treatment plan, but I suppose that will come. It’s been a lot to learn the medicine and to try to speak Spanish at the same time, so there are times (usually towards the end of a tiring shift) where I just call the translator. The great thing is most of my preceptors speak medical Spanish, so when we go in to see the patient together, we don’t have to re-call the translator. I think if I worked there for 6 months I would probably be set with the Spanish. Although I think I’ll get a fair amount of the Spanish-only population in my other rotations over this year.

I have found generally that it’s MUCH easier to learn a language for the medical knowledge compared to learning the language in its entirety. Which totally makes sense, I know, but I didn’t think about it until I started experiencing it. Here are some phrases that have helped me immensely at my time in the ER so far. I’d highly recommend these for anyone about to start rotations or starting to practice in a place with a high number of Spanish-only speakers. They are more or less in order of how they are needed. Hope it helps!

Hola. Me llamo ____. Soy una estudiante. Voy a hablar con usted, entonces hablo con mi jefe, y volveremos juntos. ¿Está bien? Hello. My name is ____. I am a student. I am going to talk with you, then talk with my boss, and we will return together. Is that ok?

¿Porque se llega a la sala de emergencia hoy? What brings you to the ER today?

¿Cuándo empezó? When did it start?

¿Dónde está el dolor exactamente? Where is the pain exactly?

¿Cuándo fue eso? When was that?

¿Cuánto tiempo dura cuando sucede? How long does it last when it happens?

¿Cómo es el dolor? Punzante, agudo, una presión, ardor, disparando? How is the pain? throbbing, sharp, a pressure, burning, shooting?

¿Ha hecho algo o tomado medicamentos para che sea mejor? Have you done anything or taken medication to make it better?

¿Se le puede ayudar? Did it help?

¿Hay algo que lo hace peor? Does anything make it worse?

¿Se va el dolor en otro parte? Does the pain go anywhere else?  

In una escala de uno a diez, donde uno es menos dolor y diez es el mayor dolor, que numero es su dolor? On a pain scale from one to ten, where one is less pain and ten is the most pain, what number is your pain?

¿Usted tiene nausea, vomito, mareo, dolor en el pecho, palpitaciones, falta de aire, dolor de cabeza, dolor o sangre cuando orina, estreñimiento, diarrea? Do you have nausea, vomiting, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, headache, pain or blood when you urinate, constipation, diarrhea?

¿Ha estado hospitalizado alguna vez? Have you ever been hospitalized?

¿Ha tenido alguna vez alguna cirugía? Have you had any surgeries?

¿Tiene otros problemas médicos? Do you have any other medical problems?

¿Toma algún medicamento? Do you take medications?

¿Fuma? ¿Toma alcohol? Do you smoke? Drink alcohol?

¿Tiene alguna alergia a medicamentos? ¿Cuál es su reacción? Do you have allergies to any medications? What happens when you take it?


Voy a empezar el examen físico. I am going to start the physical exam.

Voy a escuchar a su corazón y los pulmones. Respire normalmente. Respire profundo, por favor.

Acuéstese, por favor. Lie down, please.

Echese hacia adelante. Lean forward.

Usted necesita algo para el dolor? Do you need something for the pain?

Eso es todo. Voy a hablar con mi jefe y volveremos. Gracias. That is all. I will talk to my boss and we will return.     

Un bacione,

Layne Alyssa




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