The Universal Language of Healthcare – Being a Medical Interpreter

turley

The skills to interpret Spanish in medical settings have become very useful for student Page Turley. Photo courtesy of Turley.

By Quincey Taylor

When sixth semester student Page Turley found herself in Peruvian hospitals with her companions during her mission, little did she know that understanding medical Spanish would soon become her norm.

Turley is one of the few students that has taken the necessary classes to become a Spanish medical interpreter. Even though the skill only requires two additional classes, nursing students that are registered medical interpreters are rare. Turley is hoping to change that. It is by learning about another culture that Turley has truly learned the language of healthcare – love.

When Turley started her Spanish minor, she had no idea that medical interpretation would be part of it. It started when she took a Spanish medical terminology class. She says, “I loved it. It brought back all the anatomy terms I had learned in nursing.” Her professor, Charles Lemon, approached her about taking the follow-up class in order to qualify as a medical interpreter.

Turley was interested, but the class fell on Thursday during her nursing clinicals. There was no way to work it in. However, Professor Lemon saw potential in Turley and wanted to help her in her future profession. “Even though I had clinicals every Thursday, he would meet with me a different day of the week to make up the class I missed,” says Turley. It was through his help and Turley’s determination that she completed the courses.

Turley says, “The College of Nursing emphasizes caring for people holistically. We’re not just treating patients’ physical symptoms, but we are helping them emotionally, mentally and spiritually. One of the aspects of that is providing culturally-sensitive care. Doing a Spanish minor has helped me understand another culture a little better. It will help me be a better nurse.”

During her fourth semester, Turley was able to use her skills during the Spain section of the clinical practicum for the public and global health nursing course. Many students in her section had served Spanish-speaking missions, but they had never learned the medical side of the language. This set Turley apart.

Turley also used her skills during her pediatric rotation. A family came to the hospital with a sick little girl and neither of the parents spoke English. The doctor responded by turning to the online interpreting service normally used. However, in that moment the computer crashed and the service wouldn’t work. Turley remembers, “There was no way for the doctor to communicate with this family. They needed help right away. It felt awesome to be able to step up and say, ‘I can do it for you if you need it.’ It was a good back-up plan.”

After this experience, Turley saw the true value in her skill. She says, “Even if patients speak English it’s hard to go to the hospital and completely understand exactly what’s going on. Add another barrier, and it makes the experience more difficult and scary for them. There is so much risk for confusion. Just being informed can take away some of the scary nature, even if the situation itself doesn’t change.”

By completing the classes, students can become nationally recognized as medical interpreters. They are required to take a test to prove their competency and may be additionally tested at their job.

After graduation, Turley hopes to work in oncology, continuing using her skills as often as possible.

Published by BYU Nursing

Guided by the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we exemplify the Healer’s art by: leading with faith and integrity; advancing the science of nursing and healthcare; promoting health and wellness; alleviating suffering; and serving individuals, families, and communities. The mission of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University is to learn the Healer’s art and go forth to serve.

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