Mini Medical School in Spanish impresses capacity crowd

Culturally relevant forum teaches Latinos how to live a healthier life


One of the best weekends of the year for Clara Chapala, an 83-year-old retiree, takes place in mid-October when she visits UC Davis Health for an annual community forum called Mini Medical School in Spanish.

David Copenhaver, an anesthesiologist, shares tips on how patients can help their doctors accurately diagnose the source of pain.
David Copenhaver, an anesthesiologist, shares tips on how patients can help their doctors accurately diagnose the source of pain.

There, in the MIND Institute Auditorium, Chapala sits among a capacity crowd of 150 people who listen to top experts from UC Davis and other organizations. They present the latest news about medicine, managing chronic conditions and provide tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Each presenter speaks only in Spanish and about a third of the audience is made up of senior citizens.

“It’s invaluable information,” said Chapala, who attended the forum last Saturday and has been to every single one since it started 12 years ago. “It’s a special opportunity and anyone who goes to the mini escuela talks about it for days later.”

Known as La Mini Escuela de Medicina en Español, the forum is a joint venture hosted by the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities and the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center.

Saturday’s escuela featured information about back pain, improving memory, measles and the federal government’s proposed “public charge” rules, which could block immigrants from obtaining green cards if they rely on public assistance.

“This is a great opportunity for UC Davis to disseminate cutting edge information and knowledge to populations that often are not addressed,” such as Spanish-speaking lay people, said Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

The escuela was started by Aguilar-Gaxiola; Esther Lara, a clinical social worker and research administrator from the Alzheimer’s Disease Center; and Professor and Director of Geriatric Psychiatry Ladson Hinton.

“We had no idea how well received and what a wonderful opportunity it was going to be for us and the Spanish speaking community,” Lara said.

“Every attendee,” she added, “leaves feeling welcomed and special, and every year I make it my mission to make this event very special for community attendees, our research participants, faculty, staff and students that help us make this event possible.”

Antonia Lopez, 72, attended for the first time on Saturday and was impressed with “the very culturally appropriate approach” to the presentations. She learned from School of Medicine Associate Professor David Copenhaver how to be a better advocate for her health needs.

Copenhaver, an anesthesiologist who is of Nicaraguan heritage, presented statistics about back pain (27 million adults suffer from it). He explained the difference between neuropathic pain (“it doesn’t always cease”), and inflammatory joint pain (“like when a grandfather chases after his 5-year-old grandson”).

“He took something that could have been very complicated and dull and boring and hard to pay attention to, and made it very accessible,” Lopez said. She was impressed by the plain-speaking and entertaining style Copenhaver used in describing how patients can help their doctors more accurately diagnose back pain.

 “It’s one of the best things I’ve been to in a long time,” said Lopez, a retired early childhood education trainer, “and I’ve been to a lot.”