I don’t speak Spanish or any other language other than English for that matter. I’ve always worked and lived in the United States and assumed it would not be a problem knowing only my native English language. And then I started to work in a pharmacy.
I’m stubborn to some extent. I took only the foreign language classes that were required in high school to meet my graduation requirements. At that level French was my language of choice. I purged anything I might have learned when I arrived at college. It’s a shame too because French was fun to speak.
At the undergraduate level in college I had a brief moment of reasoning where I thought it was a good idea to take Spanish to meet my undergraduate degree requirements. My reasoning was that I was probably going into a healthcare related field and that knowing Spanish might be beneficial to me. Seems reasonable until you learn that I dropped that Spanish 101 class on the first day literally before my seat was even warm. Oh well, it was back to French until I graduated.
But now that I’ve graduated from pharmacy school and worked in a pharmacy for years I can see the light so to speak. I am learning that it is important for me to be able to communicate with my patients and customers. I am also learning that it can be unbelievably frustrating when I can’t communicate with them because we don’t speak the same language.
Now I will admit that I’ve always had this bad attitude regarding learning a foreign language for work. My reasoning has been that anyone living in the United States had a responsibility to at least make an effort to learn our language: English. I guess I just didn’t think it was my responsibility to learn other languages simply to communicate with customers because I thought that was putting an excessive burden on me. Shouldn’t they be making the effort to learn our language?
But now I am having a sort of change of heart. I am starting to learn the value of knowing Spanish (or any other foreign language for that matter) for the simple fact that it comes in handy at work sometimes. I might have to actually try to learn Spanish so I can effectively communicate with Spanish speaking customers at work. Communication is critical and when you have a language barrier with a patient or customer it can make even the simplest task of telling them how to take their medications incredibly difficult.
I’ll give a great example from work recently to show my point. I was working at a pharmacy with a student that knew Spanish well. I had a customer come in who only spoke Spanish who had some questions about some over the counter medications for her daughter. The woman could not speak English but she relayed to my co-worker what her problem was in Spanish. Because I had this technician with me that knew Spanish we were able to write out some directions for her to give her daughter a couple of over the counter cold and cough medications.
I thought about what I would have done to try and help this patient had that technician that spoke Spanish not been working with me. I have serious doubts about my ability to even understand that customer’s problem. And you can forget me being able to communicate my solutions to her. It would have been a real mess. I would have had to try and find someone from the front store staff who hopefully would have known Spanish.
So after years of being more closed minded and stubborn I am actually opening up to the idea of say taking a community college course in the evenings to learn at least a minimal working knowledge of the Spanish language. I want to at least be able to ask patients basic key questions we always deal with in the pharmacy like “do you have allergies?” or “do you have any insurance?” or “are there any questions about this medication?”
My employer has translation functions built into our filling software so I could technically print prescription labels in Spanish for customers if they need that service. But I still don’t know the language and I am relying on a computer for an accurate translation. It would be much better for me as a pharmacist to at least have a little Spanish knowledge. What if that translation function at work is wrong? How would I know the difference?
Call it maturing a little as I grow older. Call it realizing something that should have been obvious to me years ago. Even call it a desperation move out of frustration but I think I am finally realizing that learning Spanish will help me be a better pharmacist and serve Spanish speaking customers more effectively.
So now I am trying to figure out the best way to try and learn a little Spanish. My guess is that I will sign up for a class or two in the coming months. And I hope this old dog can learn a new trick and pick up at least a little Spanish. Because it just might come in handy at work!
The Redheaded Pharmacist