An Increasing Issue: The Lack of Medical Interpreters

There is a lack of qualified medical interpreters in the United States. The groups most affected by the lack of interpreters are: immigrants, refugees, and migrant workers. Non – English or Limited-English speakers are often deterred from seeking medical treatment out of fear of not being able to communicate with their healthcare provider. Those brave enough to seek out treatment, even though they don’t understand the language, may not be able to make informed decisions about their own healthcare and treatment options.

A professional interpreter’s primary role is to aid communication between individuals who speak different languages. There are many situations that call for a skilled interpreter but sometimes the information relayed can have a real impact on people’s health and well-being. Medical interpreters are relied on by patients to communicate critical information about the status of their health. Patients attempting to receive medical care from healthcare providers that they cannot understand can risk misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and irreversible damage.

In one case, a farm worker in California suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. The patient only spoke Triqui, a language indigenous to Mexico, and she was not provided an interpreter. She had to receive medical treatment without having any idea about her condition or the course of treatment. She unknowingly underwent surgery and had a pacemaker implanted in her chest. She is just one of many people affect by this problem and her situation highlights a dire need for trained medical interpreters.

There are a number of training options and medical certification programs for medical interpreters, to obtain and continue to build upon the specialized skills needed for the position. One nationally recognized program is the Bridging the Gap Medical Interpreter Training Program which was established by the Cross Cultural Healthcare Program. Bridging the Gap is a 40-hour course that teaches interpreters: interpreter roles and ethics, medical terminology, the influence of culture, and an overview of the U.S. healthcare system. After participants complete the program they receive a certificate of completion which is a valuable and well-respected qualification for healthcare facilities and interpreting agencies

Global Arena offers the Bridging the Gap training program and will have new sessions scheduled in 2017. To be contacted about the training schedule in 2017, please fill out our application form by clicking here.

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