Service-Learning Course Opens Doors for Bilingual Students

Feb. 13, 2023

Students who aspire to work in health care receive training and clinical volunteer opportunities as medical interpreters through FACES Conversantes.

At the University of Arizona Health Sciences, bilingual Spanish-speaking students have the opportunity to volunteer as medical interpreters through Fostering and Achieving Culture Equity and Sensitivity in the Health Professions (FACES) Conversantes, a service-learning course offered through the University of Arizona Health Sciences’ Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“One of the goals of the course is to increase the number of underrepresented minority students that go into the health care workforce,” said Alejandra Zapién Hidalgo, MD, MPH, a professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson.

In the course, students learn basics of medical care, including taking vital signs and understanding common medical complaints. They practice medical interpretation techniques through a combination of lectures, role-playing scenarios, case studies and presentations.

Students volunteer two to three hours per week as Spanish interpreters in local health care facilities such as Clínica Amistad, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health’s Mobile Health Unit and clinics run by the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Commitment to Underserved People program.

The students also fill a vital role in the clinical setting: serving as medical interpreters to bridge the language barrier between many English-speaking clinicians and their Spanish-speaking patients.

“I think this is a small piece of a bigger puzzle, which is health disparities,” Dr. Zapién said. “We are training students that already have the language and the cultural knowledge to serve our Hispanic/Latinx community. It is important to show our students, early on their career, the positive impact they can have in our community.”


Blair Willis
Health Sciences Office of Communications