ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Before Hurricane Maria ever hit Puerto Rico, there were already some 350,000 Puerto Ricans in Central Florida.
And every day, University of Central Florida resident Dr. Juan Jaller Char was already speaking Spanish to patients at Osceola Regional Medical Center.
"I think it's extremely important to convey the information I want to the patients, but also to the family members,” he said.
And now that need will only go up.
For UCF and its medical school that supplies future doctors, it's not about recruiting Spanish-speaking students--it's about getting the best students overall.
But it's also about being able to meet the needs of local hospitals so those students become doctors that stay in Central Florida.
"Language is a major barrier to getting quality care. That's why we try to bridge that gap, by recruiting residents who are Spanish speakers,” said UCF Residency Director Dr. Abdo Asmar. “Weknow that will result in better access to care, better quality to care."
For hospitals like Osceola Regional Medical Center, the need is great.
Roughly 50 percent of the hospital staff speaks Spanish, and they’re already treating patients who have come from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.
"Being bilingual is a gift, and any language skills is a plus. In our population, Spanish is a premium,” said the hospital’s CEO, David Carbone.
UCF said it’s still too early to figure out how it'll adapt to the influx of Puerto Ricans, and how many students and doctors from Puerto Rico may come into the program.
But Char said he knows one thing for certain, because he's already seen it.
"My day-to-day Spanish speaking is going to increase, to be able to take care of those patients," he said.
The high-end estimates are suggesting an additional 100,000 Puerto Ricans will move to Central Florida in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
To keep with national averages, that would mean Central Florida would need an additional 200 doctors.
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