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Medical interpreters: Bridging the language divide

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by Lee DouglasAlicia Valadez was anxious. A native of Mexico, the mother of five had entered Silverton Hospital to have her gall bladder removed. She knew there would be anesthesia involved, and because she experienced difficulties during a previous surgery, she was afraid she might not wake up. Valadez shared the information with medical interpreters at her bedside. Not only were they able to assuage her fears, they were also able to share her important medical history with an anesthetist. interpreting in action.The exchange was typical of a day’s work for medical interpreters Javier Rodriguez and Cheryl Tuggy. "I love my job," said Tuggy. "We have three or four interpreters here and we just go to every department, go everywhere they call us. We’re just going all day."Tuggy is a graduate of Portland Community College’s (PCC) Health Care Interpreter Training program, a program that prepares bilingual speakers in Spanish and English to translate medical information between patients and providers.Like many students in the program today, Tuggy was an interpreter before earning certifi-cation through PCC. Now, she helps other interpreters gain certification through a PCC partnership with Silverton Hospital. For three days a month, Tuggy helps train PCC students on-site at the hospital. Many of those students, including Rodriguez, will go on to train other interpreters themselves."We really believe so much in the program," Tuggy said.As the need for interpreters grows in Oregon, she said she sees PCC’s program carving out critical territory in a field short on translators. "We feel really strongly that the program is a good one and we want to see people go out into the field as interpreters," said Tuggy.Through efforts of instructors and interpreters like Tuggy, the PCC program is slowly ex-panding. Because student interpreters complete 77 hours classroom training and 30 hours of practicum work, success of the program has depended on its partnerships with hospi-tals. "There was a law passed in 2001 for interpreters to receive this education to be qualified and certified," said Maria Michalczyk, education coordinator and director of PCC’s Health Care Interpreter Training program. Since then many hospitals, like Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, have sent students like Rodriguez to train to become certified interpreters in their region. The Interpreter Training program has also partnered with community colleges to make course work more accessible to rural communities. In 2002, PCC began reaching out to rural areas through Interactive Television (ITV), a broadcast service developed the previ-ous year.Today, Michalczyk said, the program is overflowing with partnership potential."It can be with a private or public health care organization or it can be with community colleges, but we’re trying to get this settled in community colleges so we can generate more opportunity," she said."The benefit is the people within the communities do not have to reinvent the wheel," said Michalczyk. "Students can get all of their practicum within the community and not have to leave."Students instead get training through ITV programs now in place at Rogue and Lane Community Colleges and the PCC Cascade Campus. The system functions as a classroom experience, allowing audio feed in both directions so students can interact with instructors at PCC’s Sylvania Campus."It’s a little bit different, of course, because they’re looking more at a television," said Michalczyk, who teaches some of the ITV classes. "It differs in the sense that you have to be more creative and more animated. It’s almost akin to being on television and entertain-ing people."Michalczyk said rural students are appreciative of the technology, which delivers educa-tion that’s otherwise inaccessible. With so much potential for new partnerships, she said each semester is offering new challenges."Every term is kind of new and exciting. It takes a lot of back-planning to make it happen," said Michalczyk.The benefits of every partnership are evident at hospitals across Oregon through people like Tuggy and Valadez. "There are more Hispanics coming into the U.S. every day," Tuggy said. "It’s so neat to see their faces lighten up when I speak Spanish."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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