With the passing of the health insurance registration deadline in the U.S, more people will be ‘shopping’ for the best health care provider. High quality care begins with effective communication between the patient and physician. For patients whose native language is one other than English, the need for professional medical interpretation services is necessary to facilitating effective communication and providing quality care.
In the last year, we have seen numerous reports regarding the shortage of professional medical interpreters. Fortunately, the University of Memphis has been taking active steps to ensure its state hospitals and medical centers have a ready supply of well trained, full-time medical interpreters.
An Intimidating Situation
As someone who is acquainted with Chinese immigrants in the U.S, I often hear nightmarish stories from friends who have accompanied their elderly parents to medical appointments. Due to the language barrier, my friends often become the medical interpreter of choice. The pressure and frustration that comes with this role has sent my friends scrambling for new doctors, leaving their parents’ health needs unmet. This type of situation happens all too often. Dr. Marian Levy, associate professor and assistant dean of students and public health practice at University of Memphis, recognizes this issue- “There’s a problem with children having to tell a parent they have a dire illness. Ethically, it’s really not a good situation.”
To combat the shortage of medical interpreters in her local area, Dr. Levy and instructor of U of M’s Health Care Interpreter Program, Espi Ralston, have been working hard to provide medical interpreters in the Memphis area. The Health Care Interpreter Program at the U of M trains students to attain more than just knowledge of medical terminology. Ralston says that medical interpreters need to be “effective cultural brokers”, who must incorporate cultural sensitivity, and possess a strong foundation of ethics in their work. To assure that students possess the necessary skills to ensure safety and accuracy in communication, they are required to pass an oral exam upon completion of the program – a critical test to show that they are ready to work efficiently in a real world setting. (For more information regarding University of Memphis’ Health Care Interpreter Program, please refer to the article Interpreting Health, published on March 17th in Memphis Daily News)
The Health Care Interpreter Program at U of M is the first program in the U.S to receive accreditation from the International Association of Medical Interpreters. The program was created as part of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation project and has produced many full-time medical interpreters who are now working in hospitals and medical centers in the Memphis area.
At JR Language, we embrace all opportunities to learn. If you have an interest in taking on the crucial and rewarding role of a medical interpreter, we encourage you to look into interpreter programs like the one offered in University of Memphis. We also encourage colleges and universities in each state to establish medical interpreter programs if there isn’t already one in place. A steady supply of high quality, professional medical interpretation services will have a positive impact on the quality of health care provided to patients.