The Bilingual Vet Will See You Now...
Miami is a funny place to be a service professional. Whether you’re a doc, accountant, bank teller or hotel clerk, you’d best speak some Spanish. While you’re at it, Portuguese and Creole wouldn’t hurt either. On South Beach? French, German and Italian would be a boon for your career.
It’s not hard to speak the basics, but to really build a practice by providing stellar customer service, fluent Spanish is essential. And Miami, like other U.S. cities, is getting more Hispanic every day. The only difference here is that the Spanish speakers are as likely to come from Venezuela and Colombia as from Spain or Mexico.
I’ve had it easy. I learned the language as a babe in a Cuban-American household. Back then, not so many people spoke the language as do now, nor did we early(ish) Hispanic immigrants enjoy the cultural clout we do among today’s Miamians.
That guy in the Maserati next to your Toyota? He’s just as likely to come from Ecuador as from New York City. Times have changed … and are still a changin’, especially now that monied exiles from South America’s newly socialist nations are vacating their homelands in droves, pets in tow. And Miami is only one of thousands of destinations they’ll eventually settle in.
In our practice we have eight staff members. Three are Cuban, one is Venezuelan, another is Colombian and the last is Honduran. Six out of eight are Hispanic! And we are not unique. The average practice in the greater Miami area shares our enviable stats. And that’s because fewer vets speak the kind of fluent Spanish that’s needed to communicate effectively with the newly minted immigrants and exiles in our area. In other words, we need translators.
When I first moved back to Miami from the comparatively cracker white Philly, my Spanish was rusty. Even I, with my native (if slightly American-accented) Spanish, needed to learn to speak "vet Spanish."
At first, I used to look to a staff member with a pleading look whenever I would forget how to say something like "laryngeal paralysis" in Spanish. Finally, I gave in and bought a Spanish medical terminology book and spent a few days figuring it all out.
I mean, just because I could converse comfortably at a cocktail party in Madrid, it didn't follow that I knew how to say "spleen." After all, anyone trained in English has no reason to know how to say "dilated cardiomyopathy" in Spanish. Even the proper words for "urine" and "stool," had eluded me until Barnes and Noble sorted me out.
In general, extrapolations from the Latin roots are helpful, and even "Spanglish" can be acceptable, but if you can’t name every organ in the body, its basic functions and major diseases, you need a full-time translator here in South Florida. (California and parts of Texas and Arizona promise to be no different within just a few years, I’m told.)
As potentially stressful as practicing in two languages can be, the obvious corollary also holds: If you speak Spanish you stand to make more money than the non-bilinguals in your profession. And being able to communicate effectively with pet owners? Priceless.
So if you’re in the industry or plan to be, consider taking Spanish as your foreign language requirement, especially if you value the sunbelt’s climate well enough to move here. If you do, we promise to welcome you con brazos abiertos.
Dr. Patty Khuly