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Idaho State University

Spanish for the Health Professions Program Helps Area High School Students Receive College Credits

The Spanish for the Health Professions program started in 2014 and is already producing benefits in the Pocatello/Chubbuck and surrounding communities.

Spanish for the Health Professions Program Helps Area High School Students Receive College Credits

In addition to ISU students taking classes in the program, students at Snake River High School, recently received up to 22 credits by taking dual-enrollment Spanish for health professions and Spanish culture classes.

In 2015, ISU physician assistant studies chair, Paula Phelps, and ISU global studies and Spanish professor, Cathleen Tarp, recognized a need for Spanish speakers in the health professions. They wrote a grant to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that featured new programs that would benefit both ISU students and members of the Latino community. Their five-year “Pipeline to Diversity” grant was funded for $1,175,000. Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez, psychology professor at Utah State University, is also a co-principal investigator on the grant.

One of the programs created from the grant helps high school students in large Latino communities learn the specialized Spanish, ethics and standards needed to be an interpreter in a health care setting.

“Our goal is for students to understand and be able to communicate effectively in both English and Spanish as well as understand the culture behind the people they are serving,” Tarp said. “If we can help each student develop these assets and skills, then we can help them go on to college and be successful there and in the workforce.”

The grant provides textbooks, test fees, interpreter training, academic enrichment activities, mentoring and career counseling. Once the students passed the two core language classes offered through ISU Early College Program (ECP) for 6 credits, they took the Spanish CLEP exam. Every student who participated in the program earned between 18-22 college credits from the CLEP exam. This achievement allowed each student in the program to obtain almost a year’s worth of college credits under their belt before stepping foot on campus. Because of the grant funding, the students paid nothing out of pocket. After completing the program, the students were able to show what they had learned during a health fair at their high school.

The courses also helped the students learn about the different kinds of health professions that exist. Professionals came every other week to give presentations on each health care field. The students were able to learn what each profession does, how many years of school it requires, the future of the profession and salaries in each profession. They were also able to learn about financial aid, scholarships and basic economics.

As a capstone, students took the Morales-Dimmick medical interpreter course and exam. The week-long class and exam allows students to show they are qualified to interpret when they look for jobs. They know the ethics, have the language skills and understand HIPAA regulations.

“This exam gives them a leg up when they are looking for shadowing or internship opportunities,” Tarp said. “These students can actually be of immediate service to the providers and patients as interpreters. What they have is gold because they have something that people want. They can make a valuable contribution to our society and our healthcare system. They can be leaders in healthcare and they are needed.”

Tarp also said that the grant-funded, dual-enrollment program will soon be available to students in other Idaho high schools. 

Tarp created the Spanish for the Health Professions Bachelor of Arts curriculum to provide both health professionals and language students a unique program of study as well as many service learning opportunities that will be an asset to them for years to come. The curriculum requires ISU students to take both Spanish language and culture classes along with their studies in their chosen health profession and to participate in extraprofessional activities, including health screenings, interpreting for health professionals and assisting in the Cavity Free Kids initiative by providing bilingual dental health education materials.

“Our required activities help remind students that the reason they are going into healthcare is to help people,” Tarp said. “They also log a number of service hours, which are often required by the health professions programs that the students want to get into.”

Tarp is also the director of the Graduate Certificate Program in Spanish for the Health Professions. The 15-credit certificate provides online and real-time courses in Spanish, interpreting and translation and culture to graduate students.