Engemann Student Health Center promises to provide more medical resources in Chinese for international students from China, in the wake of hundreds of students who accused former campus gynecologist George Tyndall's of sexual misconduct during his 27-year career.

Tyndall, once the only full-time gynecologist of USC, was accused of multiple sexual assaults against USC's female students over the course of nearly three decades. The Los Angeles Times reported that Tyndall specially targeted on Chinese students who have relatively limited English proficiency and understanding of American medical norms.

Dr. Sarah Van Orman, the associate vice provost for student affairs and chief student health officer at Engemann, said it doesn't appear that Tyndall targeted Asian or Chinese students. "We certainly know that that has raised a lot of concerns among Chinese students … It's a good opportunity for us to look at how we're taking care of the Chinese students."

Dr. Sarah Van Orman (Photo by Dongyao Nie)
Dr. Sarah Van Orman (Photo by Dongyao Nie)

More than 5,400 Chinese students and scholars studied at USC during the 2017-2018 academic year, accounting for about half of USC's international enrollment, according to the university's Office of International Services. The number is 2.6 times as many as the second biggest international population from India. Since 2015, the total enrollment of Chinese students increased by an average 11 percent a year.

Until now, the Engemann Student Health Center only had one Chinese-speaking mental health counselor. None of the center's physicians or medical services staff could speak Chinese, Van Orman said.

In response to Chinese students' concerns about the recent scandal, the Health Center plans to hire a new Chinese-speaking medical assistant by the start of fall classes.

Since April, the center has been recruiting another mental health counselor who "is not only bilingual in Chinese, but also understands college student issues."

Not all international graduate students admitted to USC possess the requisite English language skills of their program. For them, they are admitted to USC on the condition that they complete a full-time language program, or a "pre-master's program" for at least one semester.

"For example, for a major that requires a TOEFL score that higher than 100, the standard could be lowered to 90 scores," said Hongguang Xia, founder and CEO of Ivy Heuristic, an education consulting company based in Shanghai, China. The tuition fees for pre-master's program is $11,000 each semester, plus $950 service fee.

English standardized tests such as TOEFL, are widely recognized by American universities and colleges as a key evaluation of international students' English proficiency. The tests have globally unified scoring systems and follow strict security controls to prevent cheatings. Many American universities, including USC, set minimums on applicants' TOEFL scores to ensure they have required language abilities for future academic study and campus life.

"Pre-master's" students get language training at USC's International Academy and are not included in the university's international population.

According to Van Orman, these students purchased the same insurance as other USC students, granting them the same access to medical services and facilities at the Student Health Center.

Some of them experienced miscommunications when receiving treatments at the Health Center. Their unfamiliarity with health exams, coupled with language issues, exposed them to possible misconduct and medical mistakes.

Qinlin Li, a Chinese pre-master's student in fall 2017, saw a physician at the Health Center for coughing. She showed the doctor translations on her cell phone app of what medicine she had taken previously. The doctor gave her a prescription with some instructions that she "didn't quite understand." She went home and translated the prescription and discovered the medicine she got was a type of anesthetic.

To help address language barriers, the health center offers a free interpreting hotline service in multiple languages, including Chinese.Van Orman said the services have been available to USC students for over five years.

Patients can receive instant translation from an interpreter through a phone when communicating with a doctor at the center. "If they want to ask questions through the interpreter, we can call up for them and it usually takes just a minute or two," Van Orman said. The service is provided by a national company called LanguageLine.

Last year, the phone interpreting service at Engemann was used only five times. It's unknown how many of the five requests were in Chinese. On the center's website, there's no information or instructions on how to request the language hotline service.

Li said she had never heard about the service before nor had her classmates at the language academy. "They should have let more Chinese students known about it." Li said, "It's safer for students."

"We definitely should." Van Orman said.

Heidi Ried-Gonzaga, the marketing manager of Engemann, is responsible for the update of the center's website. She said information about the interpreter service will be posted on the website by August.

A new monitor device for the language translation service will also be available in the center in fall, according to Van Orman. With the device, students and their doctors can have instant video calls with an interpreter that facilitate the conversation.

However, for international patients, language issues are not the only obstacle to sound healthcare. Getting used to the different process of obtaining healthcare in their home country and the United States can also be challenging, Van Orman said.

The health center is developing videos explaining what to expect during a general medical appointment process. It will be posted online by December in multiple languages, including Chinese.

For female patients, educational materials about what to expect during a gynecological exam such as breast exams and genital exams are expected to be provided by August 15. These materials will be in English and will be translated into Chinese and be available online and at the Health Center in the paper version.

Engemann is cooperating with USC's Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) to provide information to incoming Chinese students.

For the first time this year, campus healthcare educational fliers will be distributed in CSSA's annual international orientations in several China's big cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. The goal is to help students get better knowledge about student insurance, USC's health clinics operations and medical appointments before they depart for USC.

"We're interested in hearing more from Chinese students," Van Orman said.

She's confident students will find the care and trust they're looking for in the campus health center again.

"We hope our students know that the health center is the same building, but the health center is really a different place now."

You can reach Dongyao Nie by email dnie@usc.edu