Seeing a Doctor in a Non-English Speaking Country

Going to a hospital in a foreign country has  been one of those fears in the back of my head. I never thought I would experience going to a hospital in a foreign country. If you are not fluent in Spanish, trying to communicate with a Spanish speaking doctor can be stressful and worrisome. I brought the medicines I take, my passport, a translator app, a note from my GP, and paper and a pen. I could understand bits and pieces of questions being asked to me. Responding back in Spanish was hard, but I used what Spanish I knew to show the doctor my problem. I drew images on a note pad to show the doctor where I was hurting.  I even pointed to my problem areas on my leg and back.  After spending 45 minutes trying to explain my problem, the doctor understood what was wrong with me. Thank goodness for non-verbal communication skills!

My Experiences

When I moved into my flat, slipped down the stairs and needed medical attention. I sprained my foot and needed to see a doctor, but I had a big problem. I didn’t have my medical card because my employer the Spanish Ministry of Education didn’t send the health cards out on time.  I went to school to get my boss to help me with the problem. I was sent to ER with my headmaster. She spoke Spanish and French, so she was briefed on what happened to me. I was giving pain killers and told to go home to reset for a couple of days.  This experience was not as scary as me going to the ER by myself.

I made an appointment to see my GP that spoke English. He referred me to the hospital because he didn’t have the proper tools to help me (X-Ray or MRI). So, I walked over to the nearest hospital that would take my health insurance and checked in at the ER. I was very fortunate! I had my doctor write a note in Spanish for the ER workers to see and the admin spoke a little bit of English. The admin helped me check in at the ER, made an appointment for me to see a specialist, and offered to help me in the future.

I could some what communicate in Spanish what was wrong with me. Doctors have one thing in common regardless of language: Latin base term,  knowledge of pain and illnesses, and  non-verbal communication with patients. I am grateful that English and Spanish medical terminology is all Latin base, so understanding my diagnosis in Spanish wasn’t too hard.

English                              Spanish 

Disc                                    Disco

Herniated Disk                   Hernia de Disco

Sciatic Nerve                     Nervio Ciático

I left the ER with Rx’s to be filled and an appointment to see a specialist for my back. I went to a MRI appointment and a specialist appointment without help. I asked my boss if she would be willing to go with me to my follow up appointment in January. I want to make sure everything is being communicated clearly and there are no issues.   More to come!


  • Bring all the medicines you take
  • Bring someone who speaks the language if you can or a translator app
  • Bring a list of medical terms that are related to your problem
  • Be calm and breathe
  • Ask if there is someone who can speak English
  • Use what Spanish you know to communicate


Hospital Survival Guide

Spanish Vocabulary


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