In 2004, Kent VanTyle ’67 was serving as an associate dean in the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (COPHS) and becoming aware of the growing Hispanic/Latino population in Indiana. As an educator responsible for preparing future health providers, VanTyle wanted to be sure Butler students were being adequately prepared to provide Spanish-speaking patients with the best care possible. 

“I don’t speak Spanish and I didn’t have an extensive understanding of the culture, so I knew I would need help to get this started,” VanTyle says. 

He soon became connected with Gala Kennedy, then an adjunct instructor in the Modern Languages Department. Kennedy, a native of Colombia, had the language skills, cultural awareness, and passion for teaching VanTyle was seeking. Together, the pair created an Intro to Medical Spanish course, and student interest in the elective class exceeded their expectations. In 2007, a two-week, short-term study abroad course was added, which included a homestay, cultural excursions, and Spanish language immersion classes. 

Kennedy traveled with the students and did language assessments at the beginning and end of the trip and found the students’ language skills were markedly improved with two weeks of immersion. 

“They showed a huge improvement in their language skills,” Kennedy says. “As a matter of fact, we had to create an advanced course after that because they were improving so much and they wanted to keep learning.” 

Within a few years, they developed an Advanced Medical Spanish course for students to continue expanding their healthcare language vocabulary and conversation skills. With the addition of a service-learning class for students to complete volunteer work at a clinic serving predominantly Spanish-speaking patients and an Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience (APPE) rotation at a Spanish-language clinic site, the Medical Spanish Concentration was born. 

“The Medical Spanish concentration was actually part of the appeal for me coming to Butler in the first place,” says Joe Kirkpatrick ’23. “Besides everything else that made Butler a good fit, I knew I was interested in the language from my experience in high school, and knew that an opportunity like this would help set me apart as a uniquely trained pharmacist.” 

Kirkpatrick participated in the most recent Spanish Language immersion course Butler was able to offer in winter 2020 before pandemic travel restrictions began. He says the language skills he gained on the trip, combined with more recent experiences like an APPE rotation at Alivio Pharmacy in Indianapolis, have helped to grow his confidence in serving Spanish-speaking patients. 

VanTyle retired in 2015 after 43 years at Butler, and in 2017 his wife, Jeanne ’74, MS ’80, followed him into retirement with her own 40 years of teaching experience in COPHS. Family and friends established the Drs. Kent & Jeanne VanTyle International Travel Fund in 2015 to honor their years at Butler. The couple contributes to the fund through their own philanthropic giving and has requested that the fund be used to support students taking the language immersion course. 

“Over the years students would tell us they really wanted to take the course but they just couldn’t afford it,” VanTyle says. “So that was the idea of the fund, to not necessarily pay for the whole thing, but just to help students a bit with the cost, and interestingly that little bit is often the boost students need to be able to go.” 

With pandemic travel restrictions lifting, Butler hopes to reinstate the immersion trip soon. For students like Kirkpatrick who have completed the coursework, the Medical Spanish Concentration has provided the foundational skills to launch a pharmacy career serving a diverse range of patients. 

“The trip was much more about language and cultural immersion than about any kind of medical practice, but it helped strengthen my foundation,” Kirkpatrick says. “Now that I’m near the end of my degree program and I have the clinical background, I find myself able to put it into practice for a wider range of patients than ever.”