Posted by: sbilingual | November 8, 2011

Interpreter helps doctors talk with patients

All hospitals in Tulsa have translators available for patients who speak little or no English, but only one hospital has a certified interpreter.
The difference can mean a better cultural understanding and a safer, more satisfying experience for all involved.

Cesar Peña, a certified medical interpreter for St. Francis Health Services, has been on the job for about five years. He was inspired to enter the field after watching his father, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fail to understand his doctors’ instructions.

“Every time we went to different places, they didn’t have an interpreter,” he said.

Peña graduated from Oral Roberts University with a degree in Spanish and became certified as a medical interpreter. He began working for clinics in Tulsa before landing the job at St. Francis.

He was recently awarded the 2011 Interpreter of the Year award from the International Medical Interpreters Association.

Peña gets a list of Spanish-speaking patients at the hospital each morning, and it is updated on the hour. He speaks to the patients and their families to make sure they understand what is going on and to see whether they have any questions.

He is careful to learn what part of the world they are from and adjust his interpretation accordingly. For example, the word “stomach” is used differently in different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, he said.

“Every interpreter must also be an advocate for the patient and a cultural ambassador,” he said.

Peña is also on call for any Spanish speakers who come into the emergency room. There, he usually has to interpret instantaneously and must be quick and accurate. Anything can happen, he said.

Most hospitals use national telephone interpretation services that provide interpretation but aren’t familiar with the hospital or the region and don’t work face-to-face.

Officials with Tulsa hospitals said they ensure any interpreters they use are properly trained, but Peña noted that medical knowledge is key.

“Being bilingual doesn’t make you a medical interpreter,” he said.

One recent morning, Peña was interpreting for cancer patient Yasmin Saldivar, 11, and her mother, Sara Saldivar. Dr. Ashraf Mohamed asked how Yasmin was feeling. Peña relayed the question and the mother’s answer. They discussed Yasmin’s treatment and talked about when she will be able to go home.

Sara Saldivar, speaking with Peña interpreting, said she speaks little English and takes care of six children. Having an interpreter reassured her that she understood what was happening to her daughter.

“It helps me a lot because that way I get to know every detail that’s going on with my daughter,” she said.

Mohamed said he prefers having an in-person interpreter because he can understand more through body language and get a fuller picture of what a patient is trying to say.

“If they misunderstand something, it can lead to a big problem,” he said. “A disaster, actually. So, it’s critical.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=17&articleid=20111024_17_A1_CUTLIN451952

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