Fellow for Life Ana Ospina offers advice on how to better serve Spanish-speaking patients

By Javacia Harris-Bowser

Never stop learning. That’s the advice that 2020 Alabama Schweitzer Fellow Ana Ospina would give to any health care professional, but especially those seeking to work with Spanish-speaking patients. 

As a Fellow, Ana developed a course to help students in the UAB School of Dentistry learn conversational Spanish so that they could better communicate with Spanish-speaking patients. During her fellowship, Ana taught her Dental Spanish course to 282 pre-dental students. Today, her program is still being used in the UAB School of Dentistry curriculum. 

2020 Alabama Schweitzer Fellow Ana Ospina, sitting face forward in a chair.
2020 Fellow, Ana Ospina

Using common scenarios, the lectures cover essential communication and conversation skills needed to better interact with Spanish-speaking patients. Ana used her experiences working with Spanish-speaking patients as well as her classmates’ experiences to shape the project and develop the coursework. She also surveyed faculty members to help determine what content materials should be included in the lectures.

Of course, translators are still needed to communicate crucial medical information, but, Ana says, having a health care provider who speaks even a bit of your language can make a world of difference.  

“You’re never going to be a fluent speaker compared to your patients, but just the effort of actually trying to learn some Spanish makes them feel better,” Ana says. 

Ana, whose family is originally from Panama, knows that providing culturally competent care is about more than language. It’s also about understanding lifestyle. 

“Don’t be discouraged when your Spanish-speaking patients aren’t coming to you regularly,” Ana says.  “Recognize that the culture is to work hard all the time and so sometimes your personal health is not as important as providing for your family. Respect that. So, if it seems like they’re not caring about their health, it’s because they care about their family more.”

Today Ana works as an associate dentist at Noblet Cosmetic & Family Dentistry in Mobile, Alabama. She practices what she preaches and not only works to keep her Spanish-speaking skills sharp but also takes continuing education courses to be sure her dentistry skills are top-notch too. 

Ana credits her Fellowship project with inspiring this dedication to professional development. 

“You really do get what you put into it, so learning is always going to be an effort that I have to make and that I’ll have to be passionate about so that I can continue to grow instead of stalling,” she says. “I can always learn something more.”

To reach the Spanish-speaking community of Mobile, Noblet has translated portions of the practice’s website to Spanish. Ana also networks in the community to help spread the word that she speaks the language. 

To current Fellows, Ana says don’t be afraid to switch gears if needed. 

“My project was originally something very different,” she explains. “But I did not have enough engagement in the organizations that I was trying to reach out to make a difference in and I had to pivot and find someone who did want and appreciate my involvement.”

At the suggestion of ASF of Alabama Executive Director Kristin Boggs, Ana decided to work with her own school and there she found the support she needed with her mentors Drs. Carly McKenzie and Raquel Mazer. 

“Be very forgiving of yourself if you do have to pivot and realize that that’s part of the process,” Ana says. “Don’t be discouraged if you struggle because nothing good is ever easy.’