#MedCanes Chronicles: My Journey Navigating Language Challenges in Miami’s Diverse Health Care Landscape

“#MedCanes Chronicles” offers first-person perspectives into the lives of medical students on their journey to becoming health care leaders. The series delves into the personal narratives of these aspiring doctors and scientists, shedding light on their struggles, triumphs and the resilience that propels them forward.

Brett Frank, M.D./M.P.H. Class of 2026

Miller School of Medicine medical student Brett Frank with Sebastian, the University of Miami mascot
Medical student Brett Frank’s interests include surgery, orthopedics and sports medicine.

“From the moment I was accepted into the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, I knew learning medicine was not the only undertaking I was going to have.

Growing up on the edge of the Midwest, language barriers were relatively uncommon, so little so that I decided to study German in high school instead of a more widely used language like Spanish. Miami, however, is quite the opposite. While I knew factually that many people spoke Spanish and Haitian Creole in Miami, I was not quite prepared for my first day in the hospital.

During my first year, I spent some time in the “pit” (a term for the area the orthopedics team works in the emergency room). I was assigned initial intake with patients to understand their story and their reason for coming to the hospital. Or at least I tried.

On my first day in the pit, I went to go talk to a patient who had just arrived, excited to start practicing my patient interviewing skills. However, only seconds after finding the patient, I realized I was in over my head because the patient only spoke Spanish. I fumbled over my words trying to figure out how to ask why they were there, how they got hurt or even how to introduce myself.

At the time I was uncertain of how to access the phone interpreter, and no other staff were available. In that moment, I realized that, though understanding medicine is vital as a medical student, the ability to communicate is just as important.

Miller School medical student Brett Frank in his white coat
Brett’s emergency room experience quickly taught him the importance of effective communication with patients.

Since then, learning how to speak Spanish has been a goal of mine, and there is no better place to do so than Miami. Everywhere you go, people are more than happy to help you immerse yourself in the language.

One of my favorite experiences was a brunch on Calle Ocho. I told the waitress that I was learning Spanish and from that point on, she would only let me order or talk to her in Spanish for the rest of the meal. My minimal Spanish also came in handy after the most recent World Cup final while cheering for Argentina’s win!

So far in my time on my medical rotations, I have experienced patients who only speak Spanish nearly every day, which reinforces my desire to continue my education of the language. I have a goal to be able to care for my patients in both English and Spanish by the time I finish my medical residency, and starting my medical career in Miami is the best possible place to set that foundation.”

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Tags: MedCanes Chronicles, medical students, Miller School of Medicine