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AU Health offers medical interpreter training, registration deadline approaching

diverse hands in circle
Written by Lisa Kaylor

On some level, Belkis Aruca has always been a Spanish interpreter.

Born in Miami to a Cuban family, she primarily spoke Spanish at home but learned English as she grew up. As a bilingual speaker, she often found herself interpreting for her parents or her siblings without really thinking about it.

After she married, Belkis moved to Augusta with her husband. She said she always had a desire to work in the medical field but was never sure exactly what she wanted to do.

That is, until her sister-in-law, who is a nurse at AU Health, said she has worked with medical interpreters and thought Belkis may enjoy it.

“I loved the idea of being able to help the Hispanic community and do something in the medical field that I would really enjoy,” Belkis said.

Belkis enrolled in AU Health’s Bridging the Gap Medical Interpreter Training in 2020, and afterward was hired by the health system to work as a medical interpreter. She said the work is very rewarding, and every day brings something different.

AU Health offers the only medical interpreter course in the Augusta area licensed by the Cross Cultural Health Care Program (CCHCP). Students who complete the course are prepared to take the national certification exams from the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) or the Certification Commission for Health Care Interpreters (CCHI). These certifications will allow students to work as professional medical interpreter anywhere in the country.

“It is important to understand that medical interpretation is a profession with national certification,” said Vivian Rice, Instructor for the Medical Interpreter Training “Bridging the Gap” and manager of the Interpreter and Translation Services at AU Health. “A trained/qualified interpreter facilitates understanding in communication between people who are speaking different languages. The most basic role of the interpreter is to be a conduit, to interpret everything exactly how it is said – no changes, no omissions and no additions.”

Rice said, “A medical interpreter is a trained professional bound by a code of ethics. It requires a great deal of skill, and successful interpreting requires much more than speaking two languages. Trained medical interpreters develop special skills to facilitate effective communication in health care settings, where clarity and accuracy are essential and sometimes a matter of life and death.”

In Bridging the Gap medical interpreting training, participants must be proficient in a language. During the course of the training, students will learn medical terminology in the language in which they will interpret, legislation related to the field of interpreting and regulatory requirements to utilize trained qualified medical interpreters. Students learn how to manage the flow of the conversation, how to direct the patient and provider to maintain direct contact, and how to advocate for the patient in instances of cultural differences.

“I had a patient who was from Mexico,” Belkis recalled. “She and her husband spoke a specific dialect, but they spoke Spanish to me. Every time we talked to her, she would look at her husband, and then look down, and then look at her husband, so he kept answering for her.”

Belkis said it did take her a while for her to understand what was going on. “In her culture, it was very appropriate for her to talk to her husband, and her husband answer for her,” she said.

The class had prepared her for situations like that, in which even though they spoke the same language, the couple’s cultural norms are different from her own.

“You have to become accustomed to knowing that there are different things that they believe in different situations, and to be able to interpret that correctly,” Belkis said.

Students enrolled in Bridging the Gap must demonstrate proficiency in both English and another language. At AU Health, hired interpreters speak Spanish as most of the non-English speaking patients are Hispanic, but medical interpretation is available in all languages 24/7.

As a pre-requisite, students must test their language proficiency before acceptance to the training. Once accepted, students will receive the Bridging the Gap Medical Interpreter skills textbook, bilingual glossary of medical terminology in their fluent/target language, and a Guide to Common Medications.

The course is 40 hours – 8 a.m.-5 p.m. over the course of five days – and features a lot of role-playing activities to practice concepts learned in the class.

Upcoming classes begin on May 31, June 7, June 14, June 21 and June 28. Students must attend all five days and pass a final exam to receive a certificate of completion.

Registration is open now until May 20. The course fee is $800 and includes all materials, training and required language assessment.
For more information about the course, email Vivian Rice at vrice@augusta.edu or call her at 706-721-6921.

About the author

Lisa Kaylor

Lisa Kaylor is the Senior Communications and Media Coordinator for AU Health. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-721-5292 or lkaylor@augusta.edu.