Monday, October 20, 2008

Rio Salado's interpretation program fills hospital need

Hospital stays can be scary, but what if you don’t speak the language and you can’t communicate with the medical staff?

What if your child is critically injured or seriously ill? Reassurance and communication from a physician can be vital.

And just as daunting is when medical personnel need information and can’t communicate with the patient or the patient’s family.

Phoenix’s Children’s Hospital and Rio Salado College have partnered to develop a program designed to “bridge the gap” in languages.

Realizing the need for bilingual speakers who were familiar with the medical field, the hospital developed the Spanish Medical Interpretation curriculum. Last month Rio Salado, which already has an extensive online foreign language program with courses in Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French and German, put it online.

The new online interactive format has enormously expanded the accessibility of a program which in its in-person status was very limited, Angela Felix, PhD, Faculty Chair for Rio Salado College Foreign Languages Department, said.

The classes, SPA 205 and SPA 206, are both 3-credit college-level courses. SPA205 is an introduction to Spanish interpretation for medical interpreters, and covers the code of ethics, national standards and medical interpreter’s responsibilities. Interpretation for firefighters, ambulance personnel and other first responders is also included. In SPA206 students learn medical vocabulary, including human anatomy and physiology, in Spanish and English.
The courses are the only kind in the state. Designed for those who are already proficient in another language but want to be effective medical interpreters, the classes teach students important skills.

“Many of us who work in hospitals speak Spanish, but we don’t learn technical medical vocabulary at home,” said Barbara Rayes of the National Medical Interpreter Project at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

“We want to be sure that when a doctor’s words are interpreted, nothing is lost in the translation. Getting the message right takes a lot of training,” Rayes said.
“There are so many grave errors that can be committed between patients and doctors,” Felix said.

Students in the class learn anatomy, physiology, medical terms and procedures so they have a basic understanding of what they are interpreting.

“You can’t create meaning from ideas you don’t understand, so subject matter knowledge is as important as terminology,” says AnaMaria Bambaren -Call, President of Arizona Translators and Interpreters, Inc.

At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, teachers use a variety of teaching tools including pictures, glossaries, and even a cow’s heart, which is dissected during class to help attendees understand the cardiovascular system.

In the online format, students access videos and interactive activities to simulate the in-person experience.

“You have to get the message right. It has to be complete. Sometimes, a person’s life depends on it,” said Bambaren-Call.

There is no national certification for interpreters. Phoenix Children’s Hospital received a grant to develop the Medical Interpreter curriculum.

After finishing the online class, student Angelita Whately said it has become even clearer how dangerous mistakes in interpretation can be in the area of medicine, especially pediatric medicine.

“Knowing the language is key. I feel I have a lot to learn still. Also, I was unaware of just what would be expected of me as an interpreter, the guidelines, the do’s and don’ts,” said Whately who has taken every Spanish class offered at the college.

For information or registration about the Spanish Medical Interpretation classes call 480-517-8540 or go to

Rio Salado College is one of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges. The college offers degrees and career and technical certificates in business, computer technology, early childhood and teacher education, healthcare, law enforcement and more.

Phoenix Children’s Hospital is Arizona’s only licensed children’s hospital, providing world-class care in more than 40 pediatric specialties to our state’s sickest kids. Though Phoenix Children’s is one of the ten largest freestanding children’s hospitals in the country, rapid population growth in Arizona means the Hospital must grow as well. Phoenix Children’s recently announced a $588 million expansion plan to bring its special brand of family-centered care to even more patients and families. The plan includes a significant upgrade of the Hospital's current campus, an aggressive physician recruitment effort, and new satellite centers in high growth areas of the Valley. For more information, visit the Hospital’s Web site at