Spanish Interpreter Programs

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Communicating with health care personnel or your doctor is often a difficult situation when you aren’t feeling well or you are experiencing a traumatic situation. Rio Salado College Faculty Chair for Languages, Dr. Angela Felix and Karee Peigné, manager of the Spanish Medical Interpreter Program at Estrella Mountain Community College discuss courses and programs being offered to address language barriers in the medical field.

José Cárdenas: Communicating with health care personnel or your doctor is often a difficult situation when you aren't feeling well or you are experiencing traumatic situation. Imagine if you couldn't communicate due to a language barrier. Joining me to talk about courses and programs to address such challenges are Dr. Angela Fetlix, Rio Salado College's faculty chair for languages. And Karee Peigne, manager of the Spanish Medical Interpreter Program at Estrella Mountain Community College. Thank you both for joining us this evening. Dr. Felix, let's start with you because Rio Salado has been a leader in this area in terms of language programs. And this started what, about 2006? Give us some background.

Angela Felix: Absolutely, in 2007, we partnered with --

José Cárdenas: I was close --

Angela Felix: You were very close (laughter). And I think probably the idea was generated around 2006, but we actually finalized the partnership with Phoenix Children's Hospital in 2007 to put the curriculum that they had prepared for Spanish bilingual assistance online. Because they wanted to reach a larger audience than they were able to reach with their in-person classes. So with the online curriculum, We are able to offer courses in rural areas, we are able to offer courses at a time that's convenient for the students. And we are not bound by location.

José Cárdenas: Karee, you are the manager of the Spanish Medical Interpreter Program at Estrella Mountain Community College. Tell us about that program and then I want to see how it interacts with what the district is doing at Rio Salado.

Karee Peigné: So our program is a face to face program, so different from the Rio classes where they are online. So, students come onto our campus and take the classes there. And our program started in 2008 and has been running pretty well since then. And pretty much our courses are articulated to the courses at Rio. So the courses that they teach, our program articulates to and the students receive credit through our community college, 12 credits actually for taking the courses with us, which is 170 hours and a certificate of completion program.

José Cárdenas: And a crucial distinction though between the two programs is that at Estrella Mountain Community College they can go through an externship program.

Karee Peigné: Correct, yes, I forgot about that, but it's a very important part of the program -- the externship at the end of the program -- where they all attend a 40-hour externship at one of the hospitals that we partner with, and there are several of them. Scottsdale Health Care and Maricopa, and Banner Estrella just came on board with us, Banner Desert Medical Center, Saint Joe's. So they do have a lot of opportunities, as well as the remote interpreting locations. There is a big demand for interpreters right now, for over the phone interpreters.

José Cárdenas: Dr. Felix, who are the people who are the targets for this kind of program? Who would benefit the most?

Angela Felix: Really, these courses and programs are designed for bilingual individuals, but they do not need to have any training in the medical profession. We provide that training during these programs, whether they are doing it in an online environment or they are doing it in person.

José Cárdenas: At what cost?

Angela Felix: The cost is very reasonable. It's $81 per credit hour and the courses are three credit-hours each. So locally and nationally it is a wonderful opportunity for bilingual individuals to get their foot in the door in these professions.

José Cárdenas: And as I understand it, it's not just the educational part of it, because some of these people may be very, very fluent and capable of getting a job, but employers are looking at the credential.

Angela Felix: Absolutely, it's not the same just to have a bilingual employee able to speak in Spanish and English because interpretation is a specialized skill. So now that the employers are looking for individuals that not only have the ability to speak both languages, but they actually have that cultural sensitivity and the know-how to behave in interpretive encounters. So, it's really something interpreters are looking for now more than ever.

José Cárdenas: And you touched on one of the things that I think is actually covered at Estrella Mountain Community College and that is the cultural sensitivity. One of the examples given in some of your materials is the possibility of what could be a very serious misinterpretation when you have a Spanish speaking client who complains about mal de ojo, which literally mean ‘bad eye.' But for most Mexicans, at least of a certain generation who are Spanish speakers, it literally, in their culture, means it's a curse, they feel they have been cursed.

Karee Peigné: Yes, correct. There is a lot of different cultural backgrounds and sensitivities that the students need to be aware of, and we try to go through all of them as much as we can. We also have a lot of students with those backgrounds, so it's really great to see them all together and hear about the different cultural backgrounds they have and sharing with each other, and making sure they are aware if a patient reacts a certain way, they know how to cope with that.

José Cárdenas: And we talked for a moment to Dr. Felix about credentials. One of the things people can get if they go through the program is certification. Tell us about that.

Angela Felix: Certification is now available, it just became available in 2010, and national certification is offered through two organizations. Most hospitals now are starting to make it mandatory that their interpreters receive national certification, whether it be from either/or facility. Our program is built to exceed the training standards for one of the organizations, the National Certification Interpreters Health Care Commission. And so the students finish, we hope they do get the certification. And our site at Estrella Mountain -- we are the only facility that offers the oral certifications. I actually proctor the exams --

José Cárdenas: And that's the only facility in Maricopa County, right?

José Cárdenas: Right now, I think we may be the only ones in Arizona. There may be one in Tucson, I'm not sure of. Pretty much for Maricopa, yes, we are the only ones that do the testing.

José Cárdenas: Dr. Felix, what does this mean in terms of job opportunities?

Angela Felix: The interpretation field is really growing. And a point that we would need to remember is because of the Affordable Care Act we have a lot more individuals that will have access to health care. And many of those individuals are Spanish speakers. So there will be more opportunities in health care situations for students to be employed to serve this ever-growing population. And we just want to make sure these individuals have the appropriate cultural knowledge, vocabulary, and ability to deal with these interpretive situations that are often very sensitive. So it's really an important need that we're filling in the community to make sure that we have qualified interpreters in the field.

José Cárdenas: Karee, talk about the relationships with the hospitals. You listed a number of them involved here. How does it work in terms of setting up the externships?

Karee Peigné: We have great partnerships with the hospitals, and they all do the externships because they want to give back. They are enthused about having their trained interpreters being a part of mentoring and helping the new interpreters coming into the career. Pretty much the externship partners have to go through a legal contracting process with our district, the Maricopa Community College district, and once that's completed and the liabilities are taken care of then I can start to set up students for externships. Some of them have a pre-externship interview, and they talk to the students over the phone. They just want to make sure they are able to be ready for the type of situation; some of them do have a trauma situations, so they want to make sure students are prepared for that, which we try to do for all the students. The hospitals are just really great at wanting to work with us and be a part of training for our future interpreters.

José Cárdenas: It sounds like a wonderful program -- lots of job opportunities and relatively inexpensive education. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it. That is our show tonight. From all of us here at Eight and "Horizonte", I'm Jose Cardenas, have a good night.

Dr. Angela Felix:Faculty Chair for Languages, Rio Salado College; Karee Peigné:Manager, Spanish Medical Interpreter Program at Estrella Mountain Community College;

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