Passport to Care - Communication Across Cultures


The Passport to Care program grew out of a student-driven thirst for medical Spanish instruction. Introductory and intermediate Spanish electives and workshops have been very well-received and heavily enrolled. Based on the curriculum that was developed for Spanish, an intensive curriculum was created for medical French, to help students prepare for clinical experiences in Haiti. A two-part program in Italian was launched to prepare students for their summer rotations in Palermo.

With all of this interest and growth in language and culture preparation for students’ experiences here and abroad, these programs were organized to form the foundation of the Passport to Care program. This program provides resources and organization to help students acquire language skills and cultural background to prepare them for special curricular experiences and everyday professional practice with diverse populations.


The Passport program was organized by the Associate Dean for Medical Education, and the Office of Medical Education provides the support staff and resources. This program is enthusiastically supported by faculty from the Departments of Medicine, Surgery, Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, and Critical Care Medicine, many of whom speak one of the languages taught and can bring their clinical and practical perspectives to the classroom sessions. Current activities include:

  • Mini-electives in introductory and conversational medical Spanish
  • Intensive workshops in medical Spanish and medical French
  • Mini-electives in healthcare Spanish tailored to meet the particular needs of dental and pharmacy students
  • Preparation of native Spanish-speaking standardized patients for conversation practice sessions
  • Organization of individualized study using web-based Rosetta Stone software, in preparation for in-person workshops
  • An introductory Spanish elective experience using Rosetta Stone and in-person instruction for entering students during summer before the 1st year begins.


Students and faculty have embraced these language learning opportunities and are driving the acquisition and development of a growing menu of possibilities. The medical Spanish cases were introduced to Medicine residents, with quick acceptance and easy implementation using fellow trainees as tutors. Within hours of launching the medical student Italian program, a surgical resident filed a request to join the program. Keys to successful implementation of these curricula have been to provide flexible offerings in a manner and on a schedule that does not encroach on a student’s primary study agenda – the biomedical curriculum – and that takes into account the preferred learning style and quickness of medical student learners.

Once curricula and cases are developed, the resources needed to deploy them to additional trainees are markedly reduced. The combination of faculty support, resources from OMED, and online language instructional systems makes expansion of the program a realistic possibility. The Passport to Care program now provides instruction in Arabic, Chinese, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Tagalog, in response to growing student interest in participating in clinical and research experiences in the US and around the world.