¿Habla Español? The Growing Need for Spanish-Speaking Veterinary Professionals

Ross Zimmerman & Reyna Ramos
September 26, 2023

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month to all our incredible Hispanic veterinarians, technicians, practice managers, and veterinary staff members! 

We at Roo strive for a world where our veterinary professionals are as diverse as the communities we serve. In honor of that vision, we want to take a moment to celebrate our extraordinary Hispanic Roo relief vets, techs, and PMs and explore how their unique backgrounds inform their perspective and what they bring to the practice of veterinary medicine.

It isn’t news that vet med lacks diversity, but putting numbers to the narrative really gives a sense of scope: Only 0.5% of veterinarians are Hispanic, and this number has been falling since 2020 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022)! 11.5% of veterinary technicians are Hispanic, a number which is also declining (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). As we’ll explore, this can have a huge impact on the care we provide, specifically how we as veterinary professionals are able to interact with Spanish-speaking clients.

Hispanic Veterinary Professionals, Veterinarians and Technicians by % 2018 through 2022

From Honduras to Texas with love (of animals)

“My roots descend all the way down to Central America,” says Reyna Ramos, Roo relief veterinary technician. Growing up, Reyna spent a lot of time visiting her parents’ homeland of Honduras where she helped out on her grandparents' cattle farm. In fact, this is where her interest in animals and their healthcare began. 

Reyna’s aunts ran the family business and were both college professors who taught  agriculture business management. While Reyna was both fascinated and impressed by her aunts, this didn’t yet ignite her passion. 

Every time I’d see an injured animal out in the pasture, I was saddened. I was unable to do much, I would run, grab a wet cloth, and pat the wounds. It was my instinct to act in such a way. I was then approached by my uncle who always had a story. He used to tell me how he would treat wounds with herbal medicine and how most animals healed on their own. I believed him, I personally have seen many heal on their own. [But] this story always concerned me as I felt a desire to learn more about treating and caring for animals in a humane manner.”

Reyna Ramos, Roo Relief Technician

Language barrier or cross-cultural superpower?

Reyna describes her experience working as a relief tech as exciting. Working at multiple clinics across Texas has allowed her to work with many great Hispanic vets and techs who come from other Latin American countries. 

“Unfortunately, I have encountered uncomfortable situations where I feel like I’m not smart enough if I am unable to translate veterinary terminology quickly,” says Reyna. “Although most key terms are of Latin origin, translating another language can be challenging.” Reyna confesses that there have been times when she has blanked on terminology while talking with a veterinarian or pet owner, which can be uncomfortable.  

She wishes there were more crash courses online for translating veterinary terminology. She suggests, “We definitely need more tutors who are certified in teaching English and training veterinary staff.” 

However, this door swings both ways; this is also an opportunity for Reyna to shine. Often, she’s asked how to properly describe a diagnosis to Spanish-speaking clients. “I’m typically pretty good about translating, but the cultures aren’t always the same. Therefore, I must find the right word to say to deliver high quality client education. Fortunately I have studied veterinary medicine in Honduras, this makes it easier when speaking with other Hispanics.” 

Bilingual veterinary professionals: An opportunity to be extraordinary 

A JAVMA article exploring the Spanish language barrier in veterinary healthcare found that “although more veterinary professionals may benefit from learning a second language, few veterinary colleges offer language courses.” With all that needs to fit into a DVM curriculum, practicing vet med in a second language tends to get left off the course listings. 

After a review of the available curriculums at all 33 AVMA-accredited veterinary schools in the US, we found that only four offered such programs! These include Colorado State University, Iowa State University, University of Illinois, and Purdue.   

A 2016 JAVMA study found that 89% of the clinics they surveyed had Spanish-speaking clients with limited English proficiency, but only 8% of that same group had staff members conversational in Spanish. This, of course, had a direct business impact as clinics that offered Spanish-language resources and had Spanish-speaking staff had more clients whose first language was Spanish. 

This makes bilingual technicians like Reyna incredibly valuable, especially because they are so rare. “There have been times when Hispanic veterinary staff members come to me for tutoring,” says Reyna, and “I have been in consultations where the pet owner does not know a drop of English.” 

Her advice for these situations: move at a slower rate. This may not be ideal for treating a lot of patients quickly, but with healthcare, it’s incredibly important to deliver accurate information and ensure pet owners can make informed decisions no matter what language they speak.   

What we can do: closing the vet med language gap

Fortunately, there are several resources already available to help vet med professionals close the language gap and better communicate with Spanish-speaking clients. Vetspacito is an incredible service that offers Spanish educational videos for veterinary professionals as well as a number of other Spanish-language resources you can use in your clinic. 

"I took an oath to use my skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare,” says Tyler Primavera, DMV, Co-Founder of Vetspacito. “The veterinary oath transcends language barriers and encourages us to help all of society. Yes, that includes the part of society that does not speak English. We need to think differently to help more Spanish speaking pet parents."

Tyler suggests the best ways to help are by hiring more bilingual staff (and compensating them properly) or by learning Spanish, which is where Vetspacito comes in! Vetspacito uses different media forms to bridge the language barrier, including brochures and videos that can be shared in the exam room to help convey important veterinary topics in Spanish. The AVMA provides a number of free brochures and other resources that can be provided to Spanish-speaking clients as well.

Pet parent education is crucial to pet health. Why are we relying on children of Spanish-speaking pet parents to translate life or death information, such as about whether to spay or neuter their pet? The burden should not be falling on the child but rather the veterinary professional. If we are serious about providing the best care for all pets, we should do well to think differently and be open-minded about trying new solutions."

Dr. Tyler Primavera, DVM - Co-Founder of Vetspacito

Growing equity and inclusion in the veterinary industry

As for ways we can increase equity and inclusion in vet med, Reyna turns to the amazingly supportive veterinary community: “Having more veterinary advocates will boost equity. Spreading positivity can be as simple as 1-2-3. We do everything for our patients, together with strong skills we become one.”

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