Spanish Speaking Doctor Not Priority for Latina Mothers

Latina mothers with limited English skills prefer a pediatrician with a warm personal manner more than one who speaks Spanish, according to a recent study in the journal Child and Maternal Health.

“The mothers in our study really placed value on providers who could call their children by name without first looking at their chart, who made jokes and who interacted warmly with them, the parents,” said Lisa DeCamp, a pediatrics fellow at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

DeCamp said having a bilingual provider was also ranked as important but not nearly as much as parent/provider relationship quality and effective communication, regardless of language.

Best Pix of the Week

She said the findings are important because they can serve to remind physicians — especially those in busy urban low-income clinics where the study participants were found — that the best way to reach Latinos with limited English skills and ensure they receive good health care is to start by displaying a genial bedside manner.

“As physicians we get a lot of information about novel therapies and techniques,” she said. “But sometimes we need to go back to the very basic things we were taught early on in med school, like first establishing a (empathetic) relationship with patients. These moms really highlighted that that should be the foundation.”

DeCamp’s study involved interviewing 41 Latina mothers in Spanish at small clinics in Detroit. The majority were of Mexican descent and had two to three children.

In their responses, the women described the doctors they liked as “kind” and “very friendly” and “tries to make you laugh.” One mother said, “He greeted the children…called them by their names, and I liked that…and he knows me.”

Will My Son Identify as Latino?

DeCamp said the physicians had limited Spanish skills and interpreters were not always available. Yet their personal warmth came through in variety of ways to the mothers.

“One provider was very gentle with the children when he was handling them,” she said. “Another used to sing to the children to get them to calm down.”

She said the importance of providing this sense of personalized care for this population cannot be overemphasized.

“The study showed that for Limited English proficient moms, this is the starting point,” she said. “It’s what we have to build around, without it … health information may fall on deaf ears.”

Nancy Averett is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

Follow us on
Like us at