Context: The language proficiencies of Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) medical students are unknown. As of 2015, approximately 8% (or roughly 25 million) of the US population over the age of five were considered “limited English proficient”. Research indicates, however, that it is valuable to patients to be able to communicate in their primary language with their primary care physician. If medical students’ language proficiencies were known, the medical school curriculum could be adapted to leverage or enhance a student’s language proficiencies, preparing students to serve in communities where their patients language proficiencies align.
Objectives: The aim of this pilot study was to survey MSUCOM medical students in order to assess their language proficiencies with two goals in mind: first, to develop medical school curriculum that would leverage student’s language proficiencies, and second, to encourage student placement within diverse communities throughout the state of Michigan where these physicians-in-training speak or understand the primary language of the local community to better serve patients.
Methods: For this cross-sectional descriptive pilot study, a short, author-created survey was sent to 1,226 osteopathic medical students (OMS-I to OMS-IV) at MSUCOM. Participants were asked questions pertaining to language proficiency, number of languages spoken, prior exposure to education abroad, and demographic information. All participant data were only reported in grouped, collective, de-identified terms. Descriptive statistical analyses (frequencies, percentages) were calculated utilizing SPSS Version 25 software.
Results: Over the course of several months, 698 (58.7%) current MSUCOM medical students participated in the study. Of those students, 382 (54.7%) responded that they were multilingual. The top three second languages reported spoken were: English 332 (47.6%), Spanish 169 (24.2%), and Arabic 64 (9.2%). In addition, 249 (37.2%) said they had prior exposure to education abroad, and 177 (26.4%) said they had lived in another country for more than 6 months.
Conclusions: The majority, 382 (54.7%), of the MSUCOM students who participated in the survey have some degree of multilingual capabilities. The student population at MSUCOM may benefit from completing primary care rotations in diverse communities within the state of Michigan. Likewise, the communities throughout Michigan may benefit from having bilingual and multilingual medical students serve in their medical facilities. Further research on the efficacy of leveraging language skills in various communities, as well as broadening the population sample, is warranted to refine and validate the observed pilot study results.