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.

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