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Alexander Martin Creates Phrasebook For Clinicians with Spanish-Speaking Patients

Alexander Martin, Class of 2017, combines his passion for the Spanish language and optometry.

Second year student Alexander Martin, Class of 2017, has just completed a “Clinical Optometry: Spanish-Speaking Patient Phrasebook©” for students and clinicians to use in practice. Alex describes it as a “document designed to improve communication during an eye exam in Spanish. This document is not meant to substitute the use of a translator,” but to serve as a resource to students and clinicians working with Spanish-speaking patients. Eventually he hopes to provide each of the New England Eye network of clinics with a version of the guide.

After starting his Spanish studies in middle school, Alex developed a passion for the Spanish language and knew he wanted to be a bilingual doctor. Until a few years ago, he wasn’t sure which medical field to pursue, but optometry soon became the clear decision.

Alex began his studies last year at the New England College of Optometry, prepared to learn about the science of the eye. His undergraduate dual major in Spanish and Biology gave him a good footing to utilize both science and language. He was, however, unaware of how useful and meaningful his understanding of the Spanish language would be for his work as an optometrist.

He explains, “During your first year at NECO, you do some shadowing. In my first month or so, I was shadowing an optometrist at the Martha Eliot Health Center in Jamaica Plain. I didn’t realize until then that it would be possible in Boston to have a full day seeing Spanish-speaking patients.” He noticed immediately how nervous many of the non-English speaking patients were during their exam. “I suddenly realized if I was in a position of going into a medical exam and not speaking the same language as my doctor, I would be nervous too. But as soon as they knew I spoke Spanish, and spoke it well, they relaxed.” He was able to help patients by translating throughout the exam. It was at this moment he realized the power good communication could have in the whole patient experience.

This experience led Alex to form the Spanish Club at NECO last spring. Meeting each Thursday for lunch, about 10-20 students come together to practice their pronunciation of different clinical questions and phrases in Spanish. The group also has different speakers come in to discuss topics such as anatomy in Spanish. It soon became clear that a reference guidebook with the questions and phrases would be helpful. After six months of work, input from students and faculty, and a thorough review by Spanish Club Advisor, Professor Fuensanta Vera-Diaz, the official “Clinical Optometry: Spanish-Speaking Patient Phrasebook©” was finalized.

The phrasebook is modeled after the specific stages of the patient experience, beginning with the first patient encounter and ending with the fitting and dispensing of glasses. It includes a detailed list of questions and phrases in English and Spanish (including phonetic spelling), moving through the FOLDARQ patient case history and including terminology/questions for entrance tests, refraction, slit lamp, end of exams, and contact lens case history and exam.

While the “Clinical Optometry: Spanish-Speaking Patient Phrasebook©” is now available to students and clinics, Alex also has hopes of expanding this beyond a printed document. At Optometry’s meeting last year, he and his roommate Faustino Santiago presented a bilingual interface, which imagined utilizing technology to implement this translating process. He hopes to turn the phrasebook into an app that would help clinicians and patients alike better communicate through the optometry exam.