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PCC makes sure patients aren’t lost in translation

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Maria Michalczyk

Maria Michalczyk simply doesn’t want patients to be denied access to adequate health care due to a language barrier.

Michalczyk, the educational coordinator with PCC’s Institute of Health Professionals (IHP), has helped her program to do something about it. This spring, a new law, just the fourth of its kind in the nation, goes into effect and will help health care interpreters earn official certification in Oregon.

Specifically, the law creates two phases of training benchmarks: first, interpreters will be required to pass 70 hours of educational instruction, including an additional 30 hours of clinical time, and demonstrate language proficiency; second, students can then become certified by passing an exam.

"People are waiting for something to officially demonstrate their qualifications, and businesses want to hire people with credentials,," said Michalczyk on why the law is needed.

Michalczyk serves as the co-chair for the National Council for Health Care Interpreters and Chair for the Governor’s appointed Oregon Health Care Interpreter Council. It was through her advocacy, and help from State Sen. Avel Gordly and former Governor John Kitzhaber, that the Oregon law was passed. She also received an invitation to be honorary chairperson of the Japanese Healthcare Interpreting Association in Japan.

"I feel fortunate to be in the position to further this cause," she said. "Through PCC’s Institute for Health Professionals, hundreds of interpreters have received training not just to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients, but also in languages such as Russian, Farsi, Vietnamese and Japanese."

Since PCC started its program, the goal has always included creating practicum sites throughout the state. Tuality Healthcare has since stepped up, offering to serve as a training ground. The site will be open for business this spring, and past students who completed the training are encouraged to become mentors by entering a "train the trainer" program. PCC has further taken a position of leadership by helping other community colleges launch their own programs. The 11-week training program, where students learn about medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, as well as medical interpreting concepts, roles and responsibilities, can be taken by interactive television in classrooms throughout the state. The result is a direct link to better health care services in rural areas.

It is this kind of innovation that has placed the college on the national scene. Due to her innovation of interpreting in the state, Michalczyk was chosen to present an abstract with Dr. James Mason about the Oregon Healthcare Interpreter Law at the Office of Minority Health National Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. Also, the Japan Association for Health Care Interpreting has taken an interest. Recently it sent its founder, Dr. Takayuki Oshimi, to Oregon to study the PCC program and the new law in order to duplicate the program in his country.

The health care interpreting students, many of which are new immigrants, get an opportunity for an entry-level position in healthcare. Especially with new standards in place, a career in interpreting can become a lasting profession or a gateway to further healthcare advancement.

"I started down this road for the patient’s sake," said Michalczyk. "Patients weren’t getting quality health care and sometimes weren’t getting access to healthcare at all. But now, not only are we able to provide people with better access, we can be involved in encouraging more minorities to enter the health care field a crucial aspect to shaping a system that serves all."

For more information on the health care interpreter program, call 503-731-6627.

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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