In 2005 while living abroad, I was the victim of an assault in which I received gunshot wounds to the wrist and the chest. While recovering, I was hospitalized for six weeks at a large teaching hospital very similar to Rush. Every morning, between 6:30 and 10:30 a.m., I was interviewed by a steady stream of students, residents, surgeons, pulmonologists, physical and occupational therapists and nurses.
I remember how difficult it was to understand and absorb all the information that I was getting from the medical team. Although I spoke Spanish well at that time, my lack of familiarity with medical terminology coupled with the seriousness of my injuries left me wishing I’d had an interpreter myself. That experience made me wonder what people in the United States with limited English proficiency (LEP) did when seeking health care. If it was difficult for me, I could only imagine how overwhelming it must be for LEP patients in the United States. A few years later, when my wife and I decided to move back to the United States, it was the memory of that experience that inspired me to pursue a career as a medical interpreter.
With our Interpreter Services Department’s 10th anniversary approaching in November, I have been reflecting on my decision to change careers in my late 30s. It feels good to have a job that assists an otherwise underserved community. LEP patients at Rush University Medical Center are fortunate to have access to professionally trained interpreters to aid them in comprehending complex medical information in a way that allows them to participate in their own care. Not only, I believe, is it a good and ethical thing to provide such services, but it is also good for business. In the five years that I have been at Rush, countless patients have confided in me that they choose our medical center over others simply because they know they will be able to communicate clearly with their health care providers. Also, more and more research shows that the use of an interpreter in health care is far more likely to lead to positive health outcomes for patients.