The Spanish for the Health Professions program is a perfect example of Rutgers–Camden’s commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration and dedication to serving the community.  Dr. Ana Laguna, Associate Professor of Spanish, and Ms. Dana Pilla, Assistant Teaching Professor of Spanish, both faculty members in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, work with Dr. Nancy Pontes, Assistant Professor of Nursing, to educate Rutgers–Camden students on how to best serve members of the population who may have trouble communicating in English.  

An internal certificate program that is open to any Rutgers student enrolled in a degree program, Spanish for the Health Professions began in 2009, though Dr. Laguna started the curriculum for the program in 2003, when she first arrived at Rutgers–Camden as an assistant professor.  In 2009, the School of Nursing–Camden mandated Spanish for the Health Professions as a required course, which increased the number of students involved and the need for additional resources.  Ms. Pilla, a former Spanish teacher at Haddonfield Middle School, began to teach at Rutgers–Camden as a part-time lecturer in 2011.  With a background in Spanish language pedagogy and medical translation and interpretation, Ms. Pilla was the perfect fit for this program.  She was able to establish a sequence for new beginners and laid a foundation for a whole curriculum that developed linguistic proficiency in a specific clinical setting. 

Knowing there was a need for an increase in resources, Dr. Pontes from the School of Nursing applied for an International and Foreign Language Education grant, to support language instruction in nursing, from the Department of Education.  They received the $600,000.00 grant and Ms. Pilla was hired as a full-time faculty member in order to develop the track.  “Working together from day one, we became co-directors de facto,” Dr. Laguna says.

Since the grant has been received, two full tracks have been developed, one online and one in the classroom, with courses ranging from elementary to advanced.  The program now also includes learning abroad experiences, engaged civic learning courses and internships, experiential education programs, community partnerships with non-profits, as well as cultural and theoretical courses.  This robust program received the 2018 American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Innovations in Professional Nursing Education Award, which seeks to recognize and reward schools that lead the charge in changing the way students are taught so they may best serve a diverse community.

The co-directors agree that this award is significant for the program, Rutgers–Camden, and the community.  “It is thanks to the spontaneous synergy among both schools that this success is finally able to powerfully promote health equity across languages,” Dr. Laguna says.  She adds that, “[Ms. Pilla and I] cannot emphasize enough how incredibly instrumental Nancy Pontes has been in this process.”  Ms. Pilla says, “Its success validates the original vision of Ana from years ago, to create a program that would be equally beneficial to our students as to the Hispanic community in Camden.”        

Along with Dr. Donna Nickitas, Dean of the School of Nursing–Camden; Dr. Marie O’Toole, Senior Associate Dean of the School of Nursing–Camden; and Dr. Pontes, Ms. Pilla and Dr. Laguna traveled to Washington, DC, on Monday, October 29, to attend the AACN Academic Nursing Leadership Conference, during which Dean Nickitas accepted the award on behalf of the School of Nursing–Camden.

This program has been supported by DOE/IFLE grant #P016A160081.


Written by Julie Roncinske