Fall, 2009
As an ultrasound student with a background in Spanish language studies, I have encountered this very situation on numerous occasions in over a dozen clinical internship sites and I have learned what a valuable asset even a minimal amount of Spanish language ability can be for a sonographer. It’s easy to feel stumped or intimidated in the face of a foreign language, but don’t let your frustrations prevent you from performing your scans effectively and efficiently. Some people experience a sense of trepidation when approaching Spanish-speaking patients; fearing attempts to communicate in another language will result in mispronunciation of words and the inability to adequately express what they mean. There is no need harbor such anxiety. After all, you are a medical sonographer not a linguist. You must utilize the tools available to you and try your best.
Some medical facilities have the luxury of on-site Spanish/English interpreters or translation call centers, but if your workplace is not among these fortunate few there are still a plethora of tools available to help you overcome this obstacle. Most medical facilities offer brochures and information pamphlets in a bilingual English/Spanish format and have these available to both patients and staff. Perhaps the simplest approach is to keep a Spanish/English dictionary on hand. There are quite a few publishing companies who have developed dictionaries and phrase books which cater exclusively to the medical field with terminology typically used in a medical setting.  I have also observed the use of Yes/No questionnaires written in Spanish which allowed sonographers to obtain a basic medical history prior to scanning patients. You may also find it convenient to compile a brief list of terms and phrases you use on a regular basis tailored specifically for each type of exam performed at your facility; including instructions used during the course of a study as well as protocol for patient receipt of test results.  The use of diagrams, cut-out magazine pictures, and even body language are an effective means of conveying your message. Remember that your goal is to open a channel of communication that will allow you to carry out your job duties.
A few words and phrases commonly used during the course of ultrasound examinations include the following:
  • Ultrasonido (Ultrasound)
  • ¿Tiene dolor? (Are you in pain?)                           
  • ¿Donde? (Where?)
  • ¿Tiene dolor despues de comer? (Do you have pain after eating?)
  • ¡Aspire profundo! (Take a deep breath)
  • Respire normalmente. (Breathe normally)
  • ¿Cuando fue su ultima regla? (When was your last period?)
  • ¿Esta embarazada? (Are you pregnant?)                     
  • ¿Cuantas semanas? (How many weeks?)
Regardless of the socio-political controversy surrounding the topics of immigration and bilingualism in America, as sonographers and medical professionals we must acknowledge the growing demand for Spanish language skills in the medical field. Having utilized my Spanish fluency on numerous occasions in clinical sites to converse with patients myself, I strongly encourage you to bolster your talent as a sonographer by adapting your medical idiom to meet the needs of both your patients and yourself. Maintain a positive attitude and take the initiative to face language challenges with grace and confidence. Remember that the willingness to step outside of your comfort zone to try to establish communication is in itself a giant stride toward success. ¡Buena suerte!   (Good Luck!)