Cultural Sensitivity Key to Interpreter’s Role at Rush

By Debra Moughamian

During my life, I’ve always felt the calling to help others, and this help has taken many different forms. Whether volunteering as a substitute Spanish teacher at my children’s schools, volunteering to tutor Spanish-speaking grade school children in an underprivileged neighborhood, or acting as an intermediary and interpreter for family members, friends and colleagues from Spain seeking medical treatment and major surgeries in the U.S., I have always tried to provide support for people close to me in my life.

My experience as a medical interpreter for American friends in Spain included emergency surgeries, labor and delivery, and visits to the ER. In the United States, between 1992 and 2008, I interpreted for family and friends from Spain as they underwent major surgeries (orthopedic surgeries and cancer surgeries). After overcoming a serious health threat myself in 2006, an idea occurred to me: “After years of helping loved ones by acting as their Spanish medical interpreter, why not consider actually becoming a certified medical interpreter as a profession?”

After successfully completing a medical interpreting course and exam, I sought opportunities in medical interpreting at Rush University Medical Center, where I knew I could make a valuable contribution. The strength of my language skills came from receiving a degree in international relations from the University of Colorado and having also studied my junior year abroad in Seville, Spain. Later I would return to Spain to live and work for an additional 11 years before moving back to the United States to Chicago. My constant exposure to the Spanish language and culture helped me to be a culturally sensitive interpreter who could relate to the diverse cultural influences that molded both the Spanish people in Spain, and the Spanish-speaking citizens of both Latin and South America.

This cultural sensitivity came into play in a very real way in April 2011 while interpreting for a patient in labor and delivery. I was called to interpret for a soon-to-be first-time mother as might be routine. However, the patient was very frightened and asked if the interpreter could please stay with her until her baby was born. She was from a Latin American country, and she felt so frightened in this unfamiliar setting of a U.S. hospital, especially since she didn’t speak any English.

What began as a short interpreting encounter wound up being an entire afternoon helping this mother through a complicated delivery. The doctors, nurses and I became this patient’s important medical and emotional support team, and when her baby girl was finally born, there was a deep sense of relief and joy amongst all! To this day, when this mother brings her daughter for routine checkups and sees me in the hallways, she will ask if I remember her and thank me again and again for being there with her on that critical day in their lives. Thankfully, her daughter is a healthy, beautiful little girl.

Being a Spanish medical interpreter provides each of us with daily opportunities to broaden our medical knowledge as we interact with patients ailing from differing illnesses, diseases and syndromes, as we guide them through the healing process of treatments, procedures and surgeries, looking to restore both their physical and emotional health. Acting as a Spanish medical interpreter is a very gratifying career because it gives you the sense that you are somehow making a difference in the lives and the futures of those patients whom you help … as small as that difference may be. Being as fortunate as I have been in my lifetime, I feel compelled to help those who are less fortunate. For a patient and their family who don’t speak English, understanding one’s medical condition, the treatments available to that person, and the risks and benefits involved in undergoing possible treatments can make all the difference in the world. Their smiles and their words of appreciation, always reiterating their thanks, make my job so very worthwhile.

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  1. Pingback: Rush Interpreters Setting the Bar Higher « Rush News Blog

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