Spanish as a first language creates bonds with community

Spanish as a first language creates bonds with community

From his roots in Dallas, Texas, to his education and residency in greater Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Javier Gallegos’s life journey has led him to the tranquil lake communities of southern Wisconsin. After practicing for two years, he says that despite the pandemic, his family practice patient base is growing.

That may be in part because like many areas of the country, South Wisconsin is also home to a steadily growing Hispanic population, representing approximately 11% of the total population in the county where he lives and works. According to Dr. Gallegos, 35% of his growing patient base speak Spanish, which is also Dr. Gallegos’ primary language as a first-generation Mexican American.

“It was always my intention to build my patient base by engaging the Hispanic community, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to outreach efforts,” he said. “Nevertheless, the number of Hispanic patients has grown, simply by word of mouth.”

Dr. Gallegos grew up in Dallas, Texas, then attended Northwestern University in Illinois where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. It was at Northwestern that he also met his wife, who is from Chicago.

Increasingly drawn to the medical profession, he headed back to Texas for medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Then it was back to Illinois for his residency at Advocate Christ Medical Center. During his residency, he decided to specialize in family practice.

“I was interested in every area I rotated through, and discovered an aptitude for general medicine covering a wide variety of knowledge and expertise, rather than focusing on one specialty,” he recalled.

He acknowledges there was a cultural influence in his decision to specialize in Family Practice.

“In my cultural heritage, a doctor is prominent figure who knows a lot about everything, and can help with many types of health concerns,” he said. “That fits with my approach.”

Removing language barriers creates a positive patient experience

In his day-to-day practice, having Spanish as his first language creates a more positive patient experience for Hispanic patients.

“Even with interpreters, there can be nuances to language and cultural references that get misunderstood,” he explained. “For example, think of the subtle differences between the words ‘nervous,’ ‘worried’ or ‘anxious.’ These nuances can be critical to understanding a health issue. The fact that we can easily communicate creates a more trusted experience. You can see the patients physically relax, exhale — and then they open up.”

“It’s a weight off their shoulders, and creates a more positive experience, which always helps with outcomes,” he said.

Dr. Gallegos and his family also have found there is a social aspect that is unique to his Hispanic patient relationships.

“They consider me part of their community. I get invited to graduations and weddings,” he said with a smile. “That is a level of trust and friendship that is truly special for me in my experience as a physician.”

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About the Author

Annette Guye-Kordus
Annette Guye-Kordus

Annette Guye-Kordus is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care.