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Working to Help Patients Bridge the Language Barrier


Sandy Rios, College of Pharmacy, ’20, grew up in the East San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles where she says there are many socio-economic barriers to higher education. Rios’s parents immigrated from Mexico in the 1980s and didn’t make much money while she was growing up. But they did give her an enormous gift: a respect and yearning for a higher education.

“We didn’t have much, but what they provided was the importance of education,” says Rios. “They taught me I could dream of graduate school.”

Rios embraced that gift and studied hard in school. She was accepted to and subsequently graduated from the University of California, San Diego. While there she worked at a free clinic and learned how the experiences of her past could shape her future and help others.

She worked as a pharmacy assistant at the clinic and the majority of her patients were Spanish speaking. She saw again – as she had during her childhood translating for her parents at doctors’ appointments – how potentially detrimental a language barrier can be in medicine.

“I learned firsthand how the language barrier has an impact … and it is present in underserved communities,” she says.

“I was born here and it was easier for me to adapt than my parents,” she says. “I would stop and help them with things like bills and doctors’ appointments.”

Rios played a similar role with the patients at the clinic, helping them to understand their medications, their dosage and functions.

“You would be the bridge between the language and helping them to understand that there is nothing to fear,” she says.

Rios says the experience working at the clinic has propelled her to a career in helping others. She hopes to work in a clinic setting once she graduates from Ketchum University.

“Working at the free clinic was a major turning point in my life,” she says.

“I felt I can do this. I can give back and make a difference.”

She describes her experience studying at Ketchum University as “energizing.”

“I actually love it,” she says. “I am at an institution where everyone is excited to be studying for their degree,” she says. “I feel like I am in a different position as far as the trajectory of my family.”

Rios is working hard at MBKU. Her days are made longer by her commute from Panorama City, which she makes every day on public transportation. She studies during her travels. For fun, she likes to hike, hang out in cafés, check out new restaurants or head into Los Angeles to wander through museums.

But her main focus is school. She is soaking in everything she can because she views it as essential to being able to effect change for the good.

“I have been blessed to have these opportunities,” she says. “I am always learning how to help others … I am trying to grasp as much as I can so when I graduate I can serve as a leader in my community to break down socio-economic barriers.”