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Dr. Michael Fulton

Department: Romance Languages

Course/Project: Spanish 385 – Spanish for Medical Professions

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

According to Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Michael Fulton, North Carolina’s Latino community has, on average, a significantly more prevalent rate of certain health issues than other ethnic minorities in the United States.  For example, Latino youth have a significantly higher risk of becoming obese than other children.

“One contributing factor behind these health problems is a lack of information,” Fulton said.  “If the Latino community has access to better medical information, research shows that this factor alone can have a positive impact on lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, which can in turn help prevent health issues from developing later in life.”

In order to fill some of this medical information void, Fulton’s Spanish for Medical Professions students teamed up with North Carolina’s largest circulating Spanish-language newspaper, Que Pasa, in order to heighten awareness about several potentially life-threatening health issues that have become widespread within United States’ Latino community.  Each of Fulton’s students wrote a topical article in Spanish, the collection of which formed a weekly series that was published in Que Pasa and reached more than 73,000 of the paper’s readers in Central North Carolina.

Some of the medical issues that students researched include cardiovascular disease, childhood obesity, teen pregnancy, teen binge drinking, high blood pressure, and HIV/AIDS.  Faculty mentors from the medical school helped students fine-tune their research skills in order to highlight the most relevant work in a given field.  Since nearly all of the students were planning on pursuing careers in the medical industry, working with practicing medical personnel gave the students an early glimpse into their future profession, while also developing the students’ Spanish medical vocabularies.

Students also worked closely with the Executive Editor of Que Pasa to learn basic journalism skills and techniques.  Few of the students had any previous journalism experience, so the Executive Editor’s insight and experience proved invaluable when it came time for students to interview members of Winston-Salem’s Latino community and organize content for their articles.

Fulton believes the Que Pasa platform gave his students a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on thousands of people’s lives at a time when interest in the health of the Latino community is poised for rapid growth.

“Many Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. came from parts of Latin America that have very different approaches to medicine, not only from a cultural standpoint, but from an administrative standpoint as well,” Fulton explained.  “Because disease is understood differently in some Latin American countries, especially in rural settings, and because herbal treatments and home remedies are more common in Latin America, Hispanic immigrants tend to respond differently to certain medical situations.  In some cases, this has led to potentially life-threatening medical conditions being overlooked or misdiagnosed. In others, people have delayed seeking medical treatment until traditional remedies have been tried, which can aggravate the patient’s condition.”

According to Fulton, the presence of these cultural factors alone makes the need for medical information in many Latino communities in the U.S. particularly strong.  However, this factor is but one strand in a complex web of related issues that present numerous challenges to many Latino patients in need of medical treatment.

For instance, a majority of Latino immigrants in the U.S. are not fluent in English when they arrive.  Consequently, there is often a major language barrier that can make it difficult to receive appropriate medical treatment following a trip to the doctor’s office or the ER.  Compounding all of these problems is the scarcity of readily available and reliable medical information written in Spanish.

Complicating things even further is how rapidly the Latino population is growing.

“The 2000 Census shows that North Carolina has the fastest growing Latino populations in the entire nation,” Fulton explained.  “This will undoubtedly be one of the most significant health issues my students face during their careers in medicine over the next thirty years.  My hope is that this course allowed them to appreciate the magnitude of the problem while at the same time tapping into their ability to solve it.”