February 7, 2017 | POSTED BY | Articles, Clinical Optometry, Clinical Pearls, Healthcare, Optometry School
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One of the most important components of performing an eye exam is communication. This can be especially challenging when you do not speak the same native language as your patient.  As a non-fluent Spanish speaker, I want to share some tips and resources I have found that make giving an eye exam in Spanish not only possible but also enjoyable and rewarding.

Tip #1: Trade patients with a classmate who is fluent in Spanish (just kidding). The only way to really learn and become comfortable with having Spanish speaking patients is to dive right in, despite the fact that you might feel like you’re drowning (more on this in tip #2). As easy as it might be to trade patients with your classmate who is fluent, you will never learn by avoiding these situations.

Tip #2: Don’t get discouraged! Often times the hardest part of the exam occurs right at the start. Taking a chief complaint and history of present illness from your patient can be quite challenging, but don’t get down on yourself! I have attached a document that has some great scripted questions that will help you navigate your way through the preliminary portion of the exam.

Tip #3: Buzzwords, Buzzwords, Buzzwords. There are some words and simple commands that I believe every clinician should have memorized that you will use multiple times throughout the exam. Many of your Spanish speakers can understand some English and and you can often communicate effectively with the use of these buzzwords along with nonverbal gestures. Here is a very condensed list of some buzzwords:

borroso = blurry

borroso = blurry

  • Borroso = blurry
  • Claro = clear
  • Barbilla = chin
  • Frente = forehead
  • Oreja = ear
  • Lentes = glasses
  • Lágrimas = tears
  • Gotas = drops
  • Seco = dry
  • Arden = sting/burn
  • Dolor = pain
  • Mira abajo, arriba, derecha, izquierda = look down, up, right, left
  • Lea la linea mas pequeña/grande = read the smallest/largest line
  • Qual es más claro, uno o dos? = Which is clearer, 1 or 2?
  • Parpadea = blink
  • Queso = cheese (because everyone loves cheese)

Tip #4: Objective testing. We are taught how to perform several tests that require minimal or no instruction. These are essential in these situations. When your communication is limited, gathering as much objective information as you can is very important. This information can help guide the direction of the rest of your exam.

Tip #5: Use your resources. There have been many times when I have pulled out my phone for a quick English to Spanish translation in the exam room. If there is a key word or phrase you feel the need to say, don’t be afraid to use your phone as a lifeline. As I mentioned previously, I have also attached a few documents to have on hand when performing an exam on a Spanish speaker. They are very helpful in helping you phrase your questions and get through the exam efficiently, rather than spending a ton of time trying to learn proper sentence structure. Another big resource is a translator (if available). However, it is important to use them as a resource and not as a crutch you use throughout the exam. No matter how much Spanish you learn or how fluent you become, sometimes it is necessary to use a translator to explain complex exam findings or detailed treatment plans.

Helpful documents:

There you have it folks – your bare bones tips to help conquer your fears of Spanish-speaking only patients and survive a full exam. Remember, the best way to become comfortable giving these exams is repetition and experience. The more exams you do in Spanish, the more you will learn what works best for you. You will be surprised how much of an impact it makes on your patients for them to see you making the effort to try to communicate with them. Even if it is a bit of a struggle along the way, they will most definitely appreciate it!