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Letters to the Editor

Learning a Second Language: Diversifying Medical School From Within

Schmuter, Gabriella

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003070
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To the Editor:

I thank Dr. Sklar for emphasizing the significance of increasing diversity within health care through holistic admissions processes in medical schools. In addition to such processes, Dr. Sklar urges to further identify methods to cultivate diversity within medical schools to equip future physicians with the ability to meet the needs of all populations.1 Increased diversity within medical schools may additionally be achieved by diversifying the curricula themselves, perhaps by encouraging U.S. medical students to pursue proficiency in a language besides English.

Language barriers between physicians and patients may lessen the overall quality of patient care, especially with the vastly diverse population of the United States. Medical students may substantially benefit from curricula that include a requirement to study an additional language competently. Dr. Ortega describes the implications of greater incorporation and standardization of language aptitude in the health care setting, particularly with regard to medical Spanish given the significant growth of Spanish-speaking populations. Dr. Ortega suggests that young physicians may be more likely to locate their work within populations with which they share language proficiency.2 It is possible that increasing Spanish-speaking competency—or competency in any foreign language—within medical schools may encourage students to pursue careers in communities with increased health needs.

Although it is challenging to impart additional responsibilities upon students in medical school, which already demands a significant amount of student time and attention, the necessity to increase foreign language skills appears to be of paramount importance given the inevitable language barriers that students will face in clinical rotations, residency, and beyond. Many medical schools may offer medical Spanish classes, but perhaps there can be more opportunities throughout medical curricula to practice such acquired aptitudes. The diverse makeup of the United States population requires that its health care workers possess capabilities to accommodate a variety of cultures, regardless of individual background. Strong attempts to remove language barriers may be a method to intrinsically diversify medical school classes from within and provide the next generation of physicians with the skill set to offer higher-quality patient care to those who need it most.

Gabriella Schmuter
Second-year medical student, City University of New York School of Medicine, New York, New York;; ORCID:


1. Sklar DP. Diversity, fairness, and excellence: Three pillars of holistic admissions. Acad Med. 2019;94:453–455.
2. Ortega P. Spanish language concordance in U.S. medical care: A multifaceted challenge and call to action. Acad Med. 2018;93:1276–1280.
Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges