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Eastern offers new minor in medical interpreting in Spanish

Published on September 01, 2021

Eastern offers new minor in medical interpreting in Spanish

A medical interpreter reviews X-Rays before speaking with a patient. 

The percentage of the U.S. population who are of Hispanic heritage has grown over the past 50 years, and is now almost 19 percent according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, many Hispanic residents do not speak English — more than half of the 800,000 Spanish-speaking residents in Connecticut do not speak English in their homes, according to data by the Migration Policy Institute.

Among the many challenges facing Hispanics in the United States is receiving healthcare, an issue compounded by the fact that not all available doctors speak Spanish and many patients don’t speak English. The patients need help in better understanding their medical conditions so they can make informed decisions about their care.

The Certification Commission for Health Care Interpreters says this is a challenge for an estimated 100,000 interpreters who work at hospitals across the country, translating for doctors and patients while maintaining patient confidentiality and accounting for cultural nuances. The exchanges can mean the difference between life or death. “Coronavirus patients who don’t speak English could end up unable to communicate in their last moments of life,” the report said.

Professor Kin Chan.
Professor Kin Chan

COVID-19 is just one reason why Eastern Connecticut State University’s Department of Health Science and its World Languages and Cultures Department are partnering to offer a new interdepartmental minor in Medical Interpreting in Spanish (MIS). Professor Yaw Nsiah, chair of the Department of Health Sciences, and Professor Kin Chan, chair of the World Languages and Cultures Department, say access to professional interpreters is critical for the care of patients with limited English proficiency.

Chan said the current demand for translation and interpreting professionals outweighs the supply available. “Barriers to communication with patients whose only language is Spanish poses a health risk leading to reduction in health outcomes,” said Chan. “Language barriers significantly compromise the quality of healthcare. Recent studies have shown that Spanish-speaking patients have disease, mortality and pain burdens at least twice as high as English-speaking patients. These facts make language a crucial public health concern for the improvement of health among Spanish-speaking citizens. Our program will provide students the background in theory, technical resources and literary and cultural competency that are necessary to communicate in Spanish and in written and oral form.”

“For health service professionals, knowledge of medical Spanish is no longer an option, it is a necessity,” said Nsiah. “This minor is for current and future health service professionals including business, code ethics, physicians and their assistants, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, medical laboratory technicians, emergency medical technicians, medical aides, medical interpreters, healthcare industry professionals and psychologists. The program aims to develop critical skill sets that future healthcare providers can use to improve communication with Spanish-speaking patients.”

The minor requires 18 credits in courses in Medical Interpreting and Translation; Medical Terminology; Conversation and Composition; English-Spanish Translation; Health Communication; Principles of Global Health; Principles of Community Health; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Violence and Injury in Public Health; and Chronic Diseases Prevention.

Professor Yaw Nsiah
Professor Yaw Nsiah

“We expect students who complete this course of study to be compliant with guidelines outlined by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health,” said Nsiah.

“Those include a knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world as it relates to individual and population health; intellectual and practical skills such as written and oral communications, teamwork and problem solving; personal and social responsibility, including intercultural knowledge and competence; and interactive and applied learning through civic engagement, synthesis and advanced accomplishment, demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills and responsibilities to new settings.”

Dellanira Rodriguez Perez ’23, who is majoring in Health Sciences, has chosen the new MIS minor as a course of study. “Considering Spanish is my native language, obtaining knowledge of medical Spanish is necessary for reducing communication barriers in health care. Since I want to become a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurse, taking the MIS minor will help me improve my nursing skills. I will learn much about medical terminology in human body systems, such as musculoskeletal, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, endocrine, immune, digestive, urinary and reproductive, as well as terminology used in medical tests and procedures. I will also learn about special topics such as HIPAA, universal precautions and differential diagnosis, and will be well-prepared for medical interpreter certification. All of this new knowledge will help me prepare for graduate school.”

Rosario Arellano Melchor ’22 said, “The Medical Interpreting in Spanish minor is a great way to further enhance and expand my abilities. Learning the principles of medical word building will give me a thorough grounding in developing the extensive medical vocabulary used in health science and health care occupations. This minor allows for students to help more communities, especially those that are being underrepresented. I will help them to be heard and encourage them to seek medical help when they most need it.”

Dania Banon Vazquez ’23
Dania Banon Vazquez 

Dania Banon Vazquez ’23 is majoring in Biology and is excited about pursuing the MIS minor, as she is already fluent in Spanish. She plans to become a neurosurgeon and knows from personal experience that the minor will help to build trust and confidence between the people being served and their doctors.

“What is most intriguing to me is to be able to translate at a professional and grammatically correct manner. In my country of Mexico, something might be called one thing, but the universal term is different. Even at the age of 8, my parents or other family friends would ask me to translate medical terminology, which was hard because I sometimes didn’t know how to translate a specific word. When there wasn’t an interpreter present, my interpretation in bits and pieces was better than leaving home confused or frustrated for not knowing what the doctor had said about their results.”

Chan said that students pursuing the MIS minor should have no problem finding employment as hospitals across the nation are looking for good interpreters. “The curriculum is designed to raise awareness about the influences and the role of language that intersect with access to healthcare among Spanish-speaking patients. Students will have practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects and standards for performance. They will learn concentration and memorization tricks to interpret with higher accuracy. They will practice interpreting Spanish in a variety of common clinical and customer service scenarios to gain confidence as a Spanish interpreter in healthcare. They will have intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action and foundations and skills for lifelong learning."

Written by Dwight Bachman