CLAS Innovator Spotlight
Dr. Dennis Clements
Professor of Pediatrics and Global Health
In our work to bring new technology into healthcare language services, we run into many interesting and colorful individuals. Dr. Clements is surely one of them. Here's his story.
As a resident, Dr. Clements flew planes to rural North Carolina, often landing in grassy fields to help remote clinics treat their patients. Today, he leads medical students at Duke University into the mountains of Honduras to deliver care and learn medical Spanish.
We had the pleasure of getting to know Dr. Clements through our work to bring the Canopy Medical Spanish Online Training Platform to Duke University School of Medicine.
"The lessons I've learned in Honduras could have been learned in the U.S, but aren't because in Honduras you're immersed in other people's lives, sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, living in a small house, not in a cozy room in a hospital. You're meeting your patients in their territory." This experience, Dr. Clements claims, teaches a critical lesson. Bearing witness to the lives of patients reaffirms what medicine is all about, "to serve your patients, empathize with your patients, and build a connection with them."
These lessons are part of the reason why learning medical Spanish is so important for his students at Duke. Speaking a patient's native language makes patients more comfortable and ensures that they get the care they need. But it is also important to remember, Dr. Clements says, that "we need to listen more than we need to talk in order to understand what is going on."
Duke has been offering medical Spanish training for 10 years, an initiative started by Dr. Clements. Duke's medical Spanish program has been successful with about one-third of the school's medical students participating. Since the program began, the dean and other key faculty have funded and supported the program, and several students become certified interpreters every year.
Dr. Clements believes that language certification could alsobe incredibly important for doctors and nurses. As he has noticed an increase in non-English speaking patients, Dr. Clements has sought out bilingual staff to ensure his practice runs smoothly.
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