We’ve all been there. You leave your physician’s office only to feel as if they were speaking a foreign language when discussing your diagnosis. Imagine that same scenario if English is not your native language.
A relatively new career field is emerging to help Tennesseans who need interpretation services while in a medical setting. The Tennessee Language Center (TLC) is in the third year of providing medical interpretation training. The intensive training is a combination of classroom instruction and clinical hours at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). The TLC training is one of only a few in the country that includes the clinical hour requirement.
The training concludes with an oral exam. Following the training and exam, the students must become certified through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters or the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters before obtaining employment in the field.
“Our training has gained traction as it’s gone on,” said Sarah Cawvey, interpretation project manager for TLC. “The first year we had 15 students, the second year we had 17 students and this year we have 29 students. The national certification is only about 10 years old.”
When the students start the medical interpretation program at TLC, they select their two best languages. Of the current class, the majority speak Spanish while three speak Arabic, one Russian and one Swahili.
The TLC medical interpreter program started three years ago as a partnership with VUMC.
“We were facing a dilemma of hiring from skilled interpreters, and I was tasked with coming up with a solution,” said Hope Collins, manager of interpreter services at VUMC. “I felt we needed a community partner for this because we weren’t equipped for the classes so I reached out to TLC and other groups. I used to work for TLC and felt they would be a great partner.”
VUMC employs 23 medical interpreters – most of whom speak Spanish and five who speak Arabic. They contract with vendors when they need other languages. Most hospitals in Tennessee offer interpretation services whether using contractors or full-time staff members.