Young Women Find Career Inspiration Through Medical Interpreting Program

Language barriers in the healthcare setting cause major disparities in care and can have profound consequences for people’s health. A new medical interpreting program at Knoxville-based (and Strong Women Strong Futures Network member) Centro Hispano is helping address this problem, and giving girls and young women the opportunity to envision new careers while giving back to their community.

Centro Hispano’s Medical Interpreting Cohort grew out of near-constant requests for qualified Spanish-speaking interpreters in medical settings in the East Tennessee community. The program aims to contribute to a more equitable healthcare landscape by addressing the inequalities that exist for non-English-speaking populations.

Laura, a recent Karns High School graduate in Knoxville, grew up as the daughter of Hispanic immigrant parents watching them struggle to express themselves and navigate their new country due to the simple fact that they did not speak English.

“My parents have told me stories from work where their coworkers have looked down on them for having broken English. My dad once told me ‘No es fácil practicar inglés cuando la gente se burla de ti en lugar de ayudarte a aprender y es realmente des motivante.’” Translation: It’s not easy to practice English with people who make fun of you instead of helping you, and it’s really demotivating.

When people like Laura’s dad need to do simple things, like go to the doctor, the language barrier and lack of interpreters can make them feel helpless and unable to properly communicate, which may discourage them from seeking necessary health care in the first place.

Laura first learned about Centro Hispano during her senior year of high school and quickly got involved with several of the programs that Centro offered. “Being part of Centro Hispano’s interpreter program has given me the opportunity to give back to my community,” she says. She feels she has already learned so much through the process including that she has the ability to help others, and that being an interpreter is more than just translating words. Per Laura, “I also learned that taking part in this program will help me gain confidence and experience, which will help me improve my translation skills.”

Like Laura, Centro Hispano’s interpreters in-training have become even more passionate about being a part of a more fair and equitable system, they have grown their confidence, and they are working hard to further develop their skills. For many of them, this program will serve as a stepping stone to becoming certified interpreters, or a future career in medicine.

Isabella, another female student taking part in the Medical Interpreters Program, stated of the program “It’s been an amazing course; full of new things, experiences, terms, and most importantly the infinite learning we are acquiring. I have learned the importance and value of our Hispanic community. I have also learned how to be a leader.. I hope to gain experience & knowledge for my upcoming futuro y especialmente para mi carrera that is going to involve Hispanic children.”

Centro Hispano has full confidence that helping to bridge the gaps between medical service providers and Spanish-speaking patients will improve outcomes not only for patients but also for interpreters themselves, who, through this training program, are now envisioning new careers and futures.

Someday, Centro hopes to have in-house medical interpreters who can be scheduled through Centro on an as-needed basis. Since this is still a pilot program in its infancy, the future possibilities are endless, and we are excited to see where this journey takes them.

As best stated by Laura, “What makes the difference is the ability to make someone feel at ease in situations where they feel the most vulnerable, which I believe is essential when living in such a diverse country.”

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