A new course at Cayuga Community College will improve area health professionals’ ability to communicate with the growing number of non-English-speaking members of the community.

The college will offer a for-credit Spanish for Health Professionals course for students enrolled in the school’s nursing program or considering other degrees in the health care field. Non-students can also enroll.

Janet Nelson, CCC’s director of adult learning, said the course is an answer to the increasing diversity of both the community and the nation.

“We are frequently looking at ways to increase the ways our students can help build communication skills with the populations they serve,” Nelson said. “We started looking into this course because we saw the opportunity to incorporate more knowledge and cultural awareness into our curriculum and to address the growing needs of agencies who regularly interact with people who speak only Spanish.”

According to U.S. Census data, more than 2 percent of Cayuga County’s population is identified as Hispanic or Latino.

Many of those people who speak only Spanish or limited English face difficult language or cultural barriers when seeking treatment for health issues.

Nelson said the new class, taught by Spanish instructor Linda Horan, will debut in January during the spring semester, with classes each Sunday at the Auburn campus to attract both traditional students and those who are already working in one of the many health care fields.

Students who successfully complete the course will earn three credits toward their degrees, which can be used to satisfy the requirements of any liberal arts degree on campus, the director said.

Horan, who also teaches CCC’s Spanish for Law Enforcement Professionals course, said the health-themed course will teach students important vocabulary and phrases commonly used in their field.

“We hope to teach them the situational vocabulary and phrases that a person in the health care profession would use,” she said. “It’s not just for nurses and doctors; anybody in the health field, including local health organizations, will benefit from the course.”

Additionally, Nelson said the curriculum will be custom-made for the surrounding communities.

“One of our goals was to make this course suitable to our population,” Nelson said. “There are no textbooks generated with Cayuga County in mind, so we decided to reach out through our community contacts to help tailor the course material.”

The college sent a survey to the Cayuga County Community Health Network, which forwarded it to several key health organizations in the area. The survey asked them for specific barriers to communication their employees faced when speaking with Spanish-speaking clients, and asked for the demographic information of those clients.

“We want the course to be relevant for our students, so they can actually get into their field and put the information we provided to use,” Nelson said.

She added that the class will focus on more than simple medical vocabulary; it will also teach culturally accepted practices to better facilitate communication.

“By the time they’re finished with the course, they should have a lot of practice in dialogue and vocabulary, but they should also have a deeper knowledge of how to communicate with someone from another culture,” Nelson said. “We know that not every person who speaks Spanish comes from the same background, but there are some cultural similarities in how they perceive health care and how they engage in conversation.”

Based on the demand for the course in its first semester, Nelson said the times it’s offered could change, or more classes could be added to better accommodate the needs of the college’s students.

“For now, we’re offering it on Sunday so we can see how it goes,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll get a good turnout — we need to demonstrate the usefulness and demand for the course, but if there’s a better time, we could offer it in the evening or as a day class.”

When Horan moved from a Binghamton community college to CCC three years ago, she brought with her the Spanish for Law Enforcement class. Since its inception two years ago, the class has expanded to both the Fulton and Auburn campuses, and is also taught as an online course.

Horan said the class aimed at health care professionals was also one of her directives with a large amount of support and collaboration with Nelson.

Staff writer Nathan Baker can be reached at

282-2238 or nathan.baker@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenBaker.

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