For Phenix City pediatrician Marielena Vasquez, communication is key — whether it’s in English or Spanish.
Vasquez, who is originally from Ecuador, joined Phenix City Children’s pediatric practice in July — a move that Ritu Chandra, who owns the practice, said should help serve the Hispanic community in the Columbus area.
Vasquez is bilingual and says being able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients and their families helps them feel more comfortable in a health care setting.
Vasquez sat down with the Ledger-Enquirer to talk about making her Spanish-speaking clientele feel at home, ensuring nothing gets lost in translation and keeping kids healthy during the school year. Dr. Chandra chimed in at points during the interview.
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So were you born and raised in Ecuador?
Dr. Vasquez: Yes. I was born in Guayaquil, which is the largest city in Ecuador. My family moved to the States back in 1991. (We moved) to the Atlanta area. It was (around the time of) high school, so I finished high school there.
How important do you think is being able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients in the health-care environment?
Dr. Vasquez: It’s very important to have health-care workers who are bilingual. It helps to form a stronger bond with the patient and it helps them feel more comfortable. A lot of times the children will speak (Spanish and English,) but the parents will only speak Spanish. (You should) not use the children to translate. You want to have somebody who can speak Spanish to them so the parents will feel comfortable telling you exactly what’s going on, and they feel like you understand them. …
I don’t want to miss an important diagnosis. I want to be able to understand exactly what they’re telling me and rule out any emergencies as well, because sometimes you can miss that in translation.
We have patients here from different areas, like Mexico, Puerto Rico and Guatemala. I’m also very thankful for the staff here that speaks Spanish.
How many staffers are there at the office?
Dr. Chandra: We have seven staff (members) and one girl is bilingual. We actually hired her in anticipation of Dr. Vasquez coming. So even when (patients) call to schedule an appointment, it’s very comfortable.
Dr. Vasquez: We want to make it easy on them.
Do you think because there may not be many bilingual health-care workers, Spanish-speaking patients may feel discouraged from getting medical care?
Dr. Vasquez: Yes. They feel discouraged to go, especially for regular check-ups and little things. … But we’re available and they can sit down and tell us their whole story...
Also, I noticed that if I see a (Spanish-speaking) patient and their family, a few days after that I’ll see children who are friends or family of the people I’d seen. They say, “We knew you were here.” There are other Spanish-speaking doctors in the area, I’m sure, but just not that many.
What inspired you to go into the medical field, specifically pediatrics?
Dr. Vasquez: I just enjoy it. When I was in medical school, I enjoyed pediatrics the most. And my father is a physician.
What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
Dr. Vasquez: My favorite part of the job is when I walk in the room and (my patients) are relieved to see I speak Spanish. It’s like a burden has been taken off their shoulders. … And they just feel so thankful for what I do. That’s the most satisfying experience.
My least favorite thing ... (two weeks ago) we had a lot of people come in. We had a big rush of patients when school started. Everybody was sick, so we were pretty busy.
Now that you mention school, can you offer some tips to parents who want to keep their kids healthy and germ-free this school year?
Dr. Vasquez: Wash your hands, always before eating, and cover your mouth when you’re coughing. Never share utensils with anybody. And if you’re sick, stay home.
Especially with the flu season, (you need) to cover your mouth when you’re sneezing or coughing. Stay away from other people who are sick and please get the flu shot. Six months and older, a person can get a flu shot. Here, we’re going to have a flu clinic as soon as the flu shots arrive.