Aastha Bhavsar was volunteering as a receptionist at a community care clinic when one interaction with a patient changed her entire college trajectory.
The honors student, who will graduate with her bachelor’s in psychology on Saturday, Dec. 17, spent five years learning Spanish in high school and achieved the Ohio Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish. But when a frantic patient who was unable to speak English approached her at the front desk, Bhavsar said she felt unsettled when she couldn’t understand some of the medical terminologies the patient was asking about.
“I could communicate with the patient I encountered with the previous Spanish knowledge I knew, but the Spanish Medical terminology was where I needed to improve,” she said. “I tried my best to communicate and resolve the situation. Nevertheless, the patient felt a bit of ease when I connected with her in her native language.
“I tried to navigate the situation as best I could but going forward, I needed to do better.”
Bhavsar said she believes everyone deserves to feel safe in healthcare. After discussing various ideas with her family and friends, she founded the pre-health campus organization Spanish Medica.
As president of Spanish Medica, her goal is to help pre-health students learn and practice Spanish medical terminology to reduce language barriers in healthcare and recognize and reduce cultural health disparities through philanthropy.
“I think it is really important because that patient-physician interaction creates trust, and one way to build that is through speaking the same language,” she said. “I think even a few phrases that can help the patient understand their condition better can allow them to navigate their care better.”
Outside of learning and teaching Spanish phrases, Bhavsar also spearheads community outreach projects with Spanish Medica such as hosting a free blood pressure screening at Adelante’s Hispanic Heritage Month Festival in September.
Last fall, the group’s work, titled The Corazón Project, was featured on WTOL 11.
“We went to an event held by a Latino resource center in Toledo,” Bhavsar said. “Our goal was to educate the importance of standardizing blood pressure readings at home. We took people’s blood pressure and created pamphlets on external factors that contribute to blood pressure, as well as demographic information. The whole project was completely in Spanish.”
This year, Bhavsar chose the topic of nutrition and well-being. The group spent the semester designing recipe booklets for the Sofia Quintero community garden in the Old West End.
Even though she graduates this semester, Bhavsar said she hopes to continue her work with the group, starting with the distribution of the recipe booklets this spring.
She will also begin the next step in her education at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences next fall, even as she determines her career path.
“At a young age, I knew I wanted to become a physician, and for that dream to become a reality is humbling,” Bhavsar said. “I am looking forward to the various different experiences and opportunities in medical school that will help me make a concrete decision about my career path. ”
Dr. David Giovannucci, professor and chair of the Department of Medical Education and director of the neurosciences graduate program in the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, said Bhavsar is an exceptional student.
“Whether at the lab bench or at national scientific meetings, Aastha is an engaged young scientist who always asks thoughtful questions and continues to further her knowledge and expertise,” Giovannucci said. “She has great potential to develop into an outstanding physician scientist.”
No matter her career direction, Bhavsar said she will always be mindful of giving back to her community.
“I volunteer because I want to make a difference in my community Bhavsar said. “I am motivated by achieving positive outcomes that can help others in a time of need. I also enjoy working in a team to achieve goals that move our mission forward. I am thorough in everything I do, and I challenge myself to keep innovating and try to do something new.
“Volunteering has allowed me to meet many wonderful individuals and I feel closer and more connected to my community when I serve.”