Jessica Zimmer, pre-medical student, helps the Spanish-speaking community by combining her passions for medicine and Spanish at Ohio State’s free clinic La Clinica Latina. Credit: Courtesy of Jessica Zimmer

Navigating doctors’ offices, paperwork and medication in the United States can be difficult when English isn’t someone’s first language, but an Ohio State student is trying to change that.

Jessica Zimmer, a first-generation college student and fourth-year in biology and Spanish, combined her passions for medicine and language to help the Spanish-speaking community as one of the student volunteers at La Clinica Latina. After Zimmer was diagnosed with celiac disease and helped by her doctors, she said she was inspired to help others in a medical setting.

La Clinical Latina is a free Spanish-speaking clinic that provides services for common health issues such as diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, asthma, gastritis, urinary tract infections, back pain, common cold and birth control, according to the clinic’s website. The clinic is a partnership between the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, Latino Health Alliance and Saint Vincent Family Services, according to the medical center’s website.

Zimmer said she started learning Spanish in high school and has since become fluent in the language.

“I went to Peru after graduating high school for a week and a half with my school, lived in Chile two summers ago for a study abroad trip — it was life-changing,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer said that during her first year at Ohio State when she started working in a research lab, her research principal investigator paid for her to attend phlebotomy school to learn how to draw blood, a skill that helps people who are on the medical path with volunteer and research opportunities.

In January 2018, Zimmer said she learned about La Clinica Latina from a medical student and acquired a position as an undergraduate lab coordinator after an interview. She said she manages all blood draws and finger sticks, as well as translates for Spanish-speaking patients.

“I didn’t think my two passions could coexist, but when they came together in the free clinic, I thought to myself how this is totally what I want for my life,” Zimmer said.

Shray Jain, a fourth-year in human nutrition and Zimmer’s colleague at the clinic, said Zimmer’s ability to speak Spanish has brought something important to the clinic.

“I think it’s really impressive what she has been able to do,” Jain said. “She plays a big role in the clinic and to just have the fluency she has in Spanish is really impressive and not something you see a lot.”

Zimmer said volunteering at the clinic has helped her understand the barriers that people may face within the U.S. health care system when they don’t speak English as a first language, which makes her a better caregiver because she understands her patients’ needs and makes them feel comfortable.

“We had a patient who told us he was afraid to seek care because he didn’t know if anyone spoke Spanish. I saw all the barriers preventing him from going to the doctor, and it hurt my heart that he felt other things were more important than his health,” Zimmer said. “He’s been a patient and still [is] a patient, and I’m glad to see he has gotten better. I got to see the dynamic impact medicine has on patients.”

Zimmer said that following graduation, she plans to attend medical school and become an OB-GYN for Spanish-speaking women in the U.S., which will allow her to use both her Spanish and biology degrees.

“I love science. As I learn more about science, I get excited about my future in medicine, but I also love how Spanish allows me to break down language barriers,” Zimmer said.

La Clinica Latina is open 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays at 2231 N. High St.