A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Language barriers and health care: Interpreters give you a voice

Interpreters help patients and loved ones

At Marshfield Clinic Health System, a team of interpreters in American Sign Language, Chinese Mandarin, Hmong and Spanish are available for patients and their loved ones.

Health care can be complicated. It can be a challenge to understand medical terminology and explanations from your doctor. This challenge is amplified if you don’t understand the language of the providers and staff around you.

At Marshfield Clinic Health System, a team of interpreters in American Sign Language, Chinese Mandarin, Hmong and Spanish are available for patients and their loved ones. Terri Pilsner De Gonzalez, assistant manager of Language Services, said for any languages, interpreters could assist by phone or video.

“If it is your family member who needs language assistance, our role as interpreters is to make sure your loved one knows everything that is happening during their appointment or hospital stay,” said Pilsner De Gonzalez. “This allows you to be their support person without being their interpreter as well.”

Voice in your care

Whether you or loved one needs services, interpreters can eliminate any language barriers to make sure you receive care when, where and how you need it. Your provider’s office will assist to schedule an interpreter during your visit.

An interpreter’s role is to ensure that anyone who has limited English abilities is able to participate in their health care at the same level as an English-speaking patient. They can do this by helping you and your provider connect directly to each other, as they interpret everything said in the room.

“We are able to be part of people’s life during happy moments and difficult ones, too,” said Meliza Arias, Spanish interpreter at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “We get to see interesting things and learn about different diagnoses. I think some people don’t realize all the learning we have to go through to be an interpreter. It is not just knowing the language but all the terms and idioms from different countries. It is a constant learning career where you learn new words every day in both languages.”

Comfortable conversation

Interpreters will help make sure medical office or hospital staff know everything you want them to know. They do this by asking you to speak directly to your provider, a couple of sentences at a time, to accurately convey your thoughts. Interpreters respect your autonomy and will never add or change what you say or what is said to you.

“We follow the Interpreter Code of Ethics which means everything during your time with us is completely confidential,” Pilsner De Gonzalez said. “You can feel comfortable talking to your provider as if we weren’t even there.”

Understanding beyond language

“Being an interpreter is not just about knowing two or more languages,” said Alejandra Trestik, Spanish Interpreter at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Interpreters need mental and thinking abilities that go beyond word knowledge. Critical thinking and cultural responsiveness are also part of the requirements.”

It’s OK to be yourself

Did you know that jokes can be one of the hardest parts of an interpreter’s job? Laughter is the best medicine, but jokes are usually language specific and often require an explanation in the other language. The explanation can reduce some of the comedy, but if you like to joke, Pilsner De Gonzalez encourages being yourself.

“We will do our best to make sure your provider gets to know you as a person through your words,” she said. “An interpreter’s main goal is simply to be your voice – we do not add or change the tone or meaning of what is said.

Interpreters translate language, but also provide understanding when it come to their role. To hear a patient and their provider reach clarity in any situation is rewarding for our interpreter staff. They are here to help patients feel at ease and empowered in their own health care decisions.

If you have questions about our interpreter team, contact your primary care provider.

Read Article in Spanish:

Barreras del Idioma y atención médica: Los intérpretes son su voz



Read Article in Hmong:

Tsis Paub Lus thiab Kev Kuaj Mob: Cov Txhais Muab Lub Suab Rau Koj



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