Enhancing Hispanic Health

South Carolina has one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the nation. The increase in the number of Spanish-speaking residents has been recent enough that the cultural norms and health beliefs of the Spanish-speaking population are not well understood by health care providers.

Dr. Deborah Williamson was taking care of Hispanic families in her nurse midwifery practice and was impressed with their difficult journey and resilience that seemed to come from their close family structure, strong work ethic, and a desire to create a better world for their children.

She shares, “One young woman I admitted in labor came in from picking cucumbers in the fields. AS we spent the next five hours together during her labor I listened to the stories of her mother and husband and their experiences in this country. The young woman was a US citizen and like her parents was an agricultural worker. Her dream was to finish high school and get a higher paying job so her children could finish high school and go on to college.”

The family, although US citizens, described to Dr. Williamson the frequent discrimination that came with being perceived as undocumented workers just because of their ethnicity. She explained, “Although they spoke English very well, they spoke Spanish when together as a family. They described incidents of overhearing others making ethnic slurs in English, because they thought the family didn’t speak English.”

Based on these interactions with her Hispanic patients, Dr. Williamson felt that it was important to build a culture, language and social bias on health status. She received funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and The Duke Endowment to develop the Hispanic Health Initiative *HHI (in 2005).

The HHI has grown to encompass both professional education and community outreach. Outreach programs include Abrazos, a family literacy program, and PASOs, a program designed to improve the health and well-being of the Hispanic community through education and linking families to services.

The HHI Scholars professional education program was designed to build cultural competency, increase sensitivity to community needs, improve the ability to tailor care, and provide the leadership skills necessary for our graduates to address the social determinants of health in order to help eliminate health disparities. Scholars are selected in their second semester of the Accelerated BSN program. Dr. Williamson reports, “We have just accepted the 1th cohort of Hispanic Health Initiative Scholars.” Although grant funding ended in 2011, the scholars program has been incorporated into the Population Focused Health course in the BSN program. Dr. Williamson explains, “Because of our eight year experience of building trust with the community we are able to integrate students into multiple clinical settings using a service learning model.”

This story was repurposed with permission from MUSC Lifelines magazine editor.