Innovative 'soap opera' project aimed at teaching Spanish to health professionals

June 21, 2002

CHAPEL HILL -- The rapid influx of Latinos into North Carolina and across the United States has caught health-care providers unprepared, experts say. Seriously compromising the quality of available services, too few doctors and nurses speak Spanish, have access to interpreters or possess enough knowledge to address immigrant health-care needs.

"Acknowledging this gap, the Office of the Provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has spearheaded a three-year project aimed at closing the communication gap between Spanish-speaking patients and their care providers," said projector director Claire Lorch, a clinical instructor in public health nursing at the UNC School of Public Health. "Targeting intermediate Spanish speakers in the health professions, the program revolves around an 80-minute health drama set in the rural South."

The new film, "A su salud!," is modeled after "Destinos," the highly successful Spanish language story-based program, and combines language development and cultural awareness with health content focusing on Spanish-speaking immigrants. Using a blend of technology and media -- video, interactive exercises, Web and traditional print-based materials -- the program is ideal for distance learning and will enable students and professionals to complete their course work anytime anywhere, Lorch said.

An interdisciplinary UNC committee worked with WrayMedia, a production company from South Carolina, and an Argentine screenwriter to develop the program. The team created a pilot to test the methodology and technology. Pilot participants representing six health professional schools rated the program very favorably.

"The unique combination of technology, media and written text accommodates the needs of a diverse range of learning styles," said committee member Dr. Julia Cardona Mack, a lecturer in Romance languages. "It also enhances learning by allowing students to see, hear and participate in 'real' interactions, something a textbook alone cannot accomplish."

Casting calls were held and 26 actors hired from Miami, Mexico City, Raleigh, Durham and the Charlotte area. Filming on the larger project began in Columbia, S.C., at the end of May, with most action taking place in an old house converted -- through the magic of props and set design -- to a community health center run by Latino health professionals serving immigrants.

"During the filming in South Carolina, what stood out was how much the actors liked the script, and how they absolutely got into the story," Lorch said. "I can't tell you how many of them came up to me and said how much they appreciated the opportunity to be part of this."

Filming will continue in Chapel Hill and Carrboro from June 25 to July 8 with scenes taking place first at the emergency room at UNC Hospitals and then during a patient home visit and at a local dance club.

The completed film will be offered as part of an elective course in spring 2004 to UNC students in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, public health and social work. Negotiations are underway with Yale University Press to publish the program's materials.
-end-
The project is funded by a $470,000 grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) in the U.S. Department of Education and by additional funds from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Team members include Lorch, Deborah Bender, Chris Harlan and Amy Trester, all of the UNC School of Public Health, Bob Henshaw of Academic Technology and Networks, Julia Mack and Elizabeth Tolman of the Department of Romance Languages and Chris McQuiston of the School of Nursing.

Note: Lorch can be reached at 962-4011 (w), 942-5001(h), (803) 467-5050 (David Anderson) or clorch@email.unc.edu
School of Public Health Contact: Lisa Katz, (919) 966-7467
News Services Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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