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Medical interpreters speak the patient’s language

July 14, 2011
Sometimes as patients we might think our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers are speaking a foreign language. Imagine listening to that “foreign language” in a foreign language. Training employees as medical interpreters of conversations between healthcare providers and Spanish-speaking patients and family members helps allay fears and improve patient outcomes, says Sister Barbara Aldrich, vice president of Mission Integration at St. Mary’s Hospital.

After sponsoring two 40-hour courses, St. Mary’s has 39 employees with specialized interpreting skills. As a community investment, the hospital also invited employees of other area healthcare organizations to attend the classes taught by Beth Kuperman, MA, CMI, director of bilingual medical programs at Telluride Medical Center, Aldrich explains.

Students must already be fluent in Spanish to enroll. “They learn medical terminology in Spanish and how to function and communicate as an interpreter, including the standards and ethics of medical interpreting,” Aldrich says. The interpreter can’t become a third party in a conversation between patient and doctor. “The patient needs to bond with their provider, not with the interpreter. If a bond isn’t created, they may not ask important questions,” she says.

39 hospital employees, and employees of Marillac Clinic, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado, and Hilltop’s B4 Babies program completed medical interpreter training sponsored by St. Mary’s.