Students start new medical Polish elective

There are an estimated 10 million Polish-speaking people living in the United States, and Chicago has more Polish speakers than any other major city in the country. Still, the number of Polish-speaking physicians is comparatively small. This void was noticed by several Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine students who recently created one of the only medical Polish electives at a medical school in the United States.

“I know the need, I have experienced it. I would go with to family and friend’s medical appointments to translate and make sure they understood what the doctors were saying,” said Monica Medrano, second-year medical student at Stritch and Polish elective teacher. “Often patients will tell the doctor they understand to avoid feeling ashamed or embarrassed, and this can be dangerous for their health.”

Medrano, along with fellow second-year students Magdalena Harasimowicz and Emily Lenczowski and fourth-year student Christopher Kasia, worked with faculty advisor Josephine Dlugopolski-Gach, MD, to create a student-led class to teach the fundamentals of the Polish language.

“At least 40 percent of my patients are primarily Polish-speaking and they travel from far distances just to feel comfortable talking to someone in their native language. I am so glad to be a part of this elective that will help students and physicians better care for their patients,” said Dr. Dlugopolski-Gach, who is an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and pediatrics at Stritch.

The elective focuses on essential phrases needed to communicate in a medical environment and addresses cultural competency to provide better care for Polish-speaking patients.

Twenty students have registered for the elective, which requires them to attend 20 one-hour classes, pass a written exam as well as verbal assessment, shadow a medical interpreter for two hours and write a one-page reflection about the course.

The students hope to train others to become instructors as well and are in the process of creating a program for students to earn a certification in medical Polish translation for those who already speak the language. The program was modeled after Stritch’s medical Spanish program, which also is student-led.