New health sciences major at UC Santa Cruz includes community service and Spanish language requirements

The University of California, Santa Cruz, has established a new health sciences major designed for students interested in medical careers. Students majoring in health sciences at UCSC will be required to become proficient in Spanish and to do an internship in a community health care setting, in addition to taking the usual science courses required for admission to medical school.

The Spanish language and internship requirements make the program unique in the UC system, said Charlotte Moreno, assistant dean of the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences.

"The program was designed with these components in order to better meet emerging needs within the health care industry and to better serve the increasingly diverse population of the state of California," she said.

The new major's community service requirement essentially formalizes what has become an informal requirement for admission to many medical schools, said John Tamkun, professor and chair of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology.

"A lot of medical schools want students to have some experience working in a health care setting. They want to be sure the students know what they're getting into," Tamkun said.

In the past, premed students at UCSC have had to seek out such opportunities on their own. Now, the campus is hiring an internship coordinator for the health sciences program who will identify good opportunities for students to work with health care professionals in the local community. Students will also be able to receive academic credit for the internships.

"The internships will really help our students when they apply to medical school," Tamkun said.

The Spanish language requirement was inspired by conversations with various health care professionals, said Lindsay Hinck, an assistant professor of MCD biology who worked with Tamkun, Moreno, and others to design the new major.

"What I heard from a lot of doctors is that, in the end, medical school teaches you all the science you need, but when you get out into the real world you find that you really need language skills," Hinck said.

An article in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics highlighted the difficulties facing Spanish-speaking patients. The study found that errors in interpretation were common during visits to a pediatric clinic when a Spanish interpreter was used. In 13 monitored visits, the researchers recorded an average of 31 errors per visit, most of which had potential clinical consequences. Errors were most common when ad hoc interpreters, such as family members or untrained bilingual hospital workers, were used.

UCSC's health sciences major requires four quarters of Spanish, plus a new course in medical Spanish designed to teach not only medical terminology but also relevant cultural considerations. Spanish lecturer Brenda Barcelo, who is teaching the course for the first time this quarter, said she was surprised by the level of interest in the new course.

"The class includes native speakers of Spanish, which was very unexpected, and I also have students who have already taken the regular Spanish 5 course and are taking this one even though they may not get credit for it," Barcelo said.

Students may begin enrolling in the new major in fall 2003. The Departments of MCD Biology and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will jointly administer the program, which will lead to a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree.

Tamkun said the health sciences major will complement the health-related research programs at UCSC. "We do a lot of biomedical research here that is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and we look forward to further growth in this area, so it makes sense to have an undergraduate program in health sciences," he said.

The health sciences major marks the first step in a broad health sciences initiative at UCSC that will eventually include an array of programs for students interested in different aspects of human health and health-care issues.

"There is a lot of interest across campus in developing more opportunities for students who are interested in health-related careers," Tamkun said.

"We are very excited about this new program," Moreno added. "We expect that it will be one component of what is envisioned as a broad-based, interdisciplinary set of campus programs that will offer options for students interested in health sciences, health care delivery, and health care policy issues."


Note to reporters: You may contact Hinck at (831) 459-5253 or and Tamkun at (831) 459-3179 or