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Nursing News HighlightsAdvancing Culturally Competent Care

Interdisciplinary Certificate Prepares Nurses to Tackle Health Disparities in Minority Populations

According to research by the Health Professionals for Diversity (HPD) Coalition, minority patients are impacted disproportionately by treatable, curable, or preventable diseases. Even when controlling for access-related factors, such as insurance status and income, some racial and ethnic minority groups are still more likely to receive lower-quality healthcare. As the links between these disparities and racial and ethnic minority populations continue to drive research in culturally competent care, educational initiatives that create a constant awareness of such disparities among healthcare providers are key to helping close the gap in the level of care provided in diverse communities around the country.

The Spanish for Health Professions Certificate Program at Rutgers-Camden University in Camden, NJ, aims to educate students entering the healthcare field on how to best serve members of the population who may have trouble communicating in English. Faculty members of the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Rutgers-Camden University, Dana Pilla, MA, EdM, worked closely with Assistant Professor of Nursing Nancy Pontes, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FNAP, to officially launch the certificate program, originally initiated in 2003 by Ana Laguna, PhD, (all pictured above) in 2018.

After the Rutgers School of Nursing—Camden received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education International and Foreign Language Education office, two Medical Spanish curricula were developed, one online and one in the classroom, with courses ranging from elementary-level to advanced. The program has also expanded to include learning abroad experiences, engaged civic learning courses and internships, experiential education programs, and community partnerships with non-profits, as well as cultural and theoretical courses, and is also open to current health practitioners wishing to acquire this set of cultural and linguistic tools through future professional development opportunities.

In 2018, on behalf of Rutgers School of Nursing - Camden, Donna Nickitas, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, CNE, FNAP, FAAN, dean of the school of nursing, received the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award, which recognizes schools that re-envision traditional models for nursing education and lead programmatic change. The program not only targets the language skills of nursing or pre-med students, but also works to introduce an understanding of the historical and cultural aspects that shape Spanish-speaking communities. One advanced course, for example, studies the immigration patterns of surrounding Hispanic communities, examining how the specific circumstances of a population play an essential role in the healthcare policies required.

“This award is a great testament to a wonderful campus that leverages expertise across disciplines to benefit our students and the diverse communities they serve, now and in the years to come,” Nancy said.

Ana agreed that this national honor recognizes the “synergy among two schools interested in promoting health equity across languages,” which Dana reaffirmed, noting the collaboration between the Rutgers School of Nursing in Camden and the Rutgers-Camden College of Arts and Sciences, where the Department of World Languages and Cultures is housed.

“This success validates Ana’s original vision from years ago – to create a program that would be equally beneficial to our students as to the Hispanic community in Camden,” Dana said. A key learning of the program has been the greater level of understanding found when students put their language skills into practice by engaging directly with the Hispanic community in Camden through service learning opportunities.

“The ability for students to apply their classroom knowledge of Spanish to real-world situations is of paramount importance to in enhancing their communication skills, strengthening their cultural competency, and propelling their Spanish language proficiency forward,” Dana said.

The collaboration between the nursing school and the Spanish for the Health Professions Program at Rutgers-Camden provides future nurses with the ability to gain an intermediate level of understanding in the language in order to engage with the communities in which they serve. Students taking the Spanish for Health Professions courses work to acquire a linguistic competency rooted in a deep cultural understanding of the voice of such communities.

Expanding in fall of 2019, the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden is moving forward with a plan to offer continuing education (CE) credits for practicing nurses. As part of the curriculum, the co-directors will develop month-long online modules about Medical Spanish on difference topics in nursing that will run from September until June 2020. The modules will be delivered individually and feedback will be given to nurses taking the modules weekly by a Rutgers Spanish professor. Included in the training will be interpersonal speaking, vocabulary tutorials and quizzes, opportunities to work in groups on topics in nursing, and oral presentations. Modules are focused on helping nurses learn the necessary Spanish to be able to communicate with patients in family practice, maternity, mental health triage, rehabilitation, geriatrics, and emergency care. Additionally, materials will be available online, allowing for flexibility of completing the courses around demanding schedules.

The faculty facilitating the program believes that healthcare equity cannot only be dramatically improved by the hiring of underrepresented healthcare providers, but also by increasing the cultural competence of current healthcare professionals. By addressing the particular needs of the Spanish-speaking patients in the area, the program has attracted a rising number of diverse, mainly Hispanic, nursing and pre-med students (more than 55 percent of current enrollees) and is proving be an example of how education can transform challenging environments into fields of opportunity.

To learn more about the Spanish for the Health Professions Program at Rutgers-Camden and upcoming CE opportunities for practicing nursing professionals, please visit

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