Last year, North Sound Accountable Community of Health (North Sound ACH) developed a Language Access Survey (LAS) to collect data on languages spoken in the North Sound region, and to better understand how to support partner organizations in providing culturally- and linguistically-appropriate language services in healthcare and social services.
The data collected from the LAS highlighted opportunities to increase non-English language services. In spring 2022, North Sound ACH initiated a pilot project to provide training opportunities to bilingual and multilingual individuals to explore medical interpreting, an identified workforce need in the North Sound.
The participants in the LAS are North Sound ACH partner organizations, including community grass-roots organizations serving communities and Tribal nations in Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties.
The survey showed that the top languages to request an interpreter are: Spanish (95%), Russian (64%), and Vietnamese (24%). The survey also reported the high need for interpreters for Central American Indigenous languages, such as Mixteco Alto and Mixteco Bajo, which is especially challenging to find local interpreters for those languages in a timely manner.
North Sound ACH offered scholarships for a training class at Whatcom Community College in Spring Quarter 2022; 12 bi- and trilingual students enrolled in Foundations of Medical Interpreting, coming from Skagit, Island, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties, speaking Mixteco, Spanish, and Korean. Of the 12 students, 11 completed the training and are now eligible to take the exam towards certification in medical interpreting.
There’s a difference between an interpreter and a bilingual employee.”
Rebeca Sixto was one of the students, a bilingual speaker of Spanish and English. Like many immigrant and first-generation children, she has informally been interpreting for her family and community members for years, and was often asked to help translate or interpret at her workplaces. “Sometimes it feels like, oh my gosh I have all this work to do,” she said of being asked to translate while at work, but “I’m doing it for the people that need it.” She said she’s always been the type of person to help people in need. After taking the class, she said she learned there are regulations to follow, to ensure you are interpreting correctly, especially in a medical setting. The students learned about legal and ethical standards for interpreting.
Fellow student Julieta Garcia Suarez said she found that employers often want bilingual speakers, but it didn’t always equate to extra compensation for her skills. “There’s a difference between an interpreter and a bilingual employee,” she said.
The students have all seen a great need for interpreters, and many are motivated to take the state exam to become certified – not just to be appropriately compensated for their skills, but because local interpreters are needed, as demonstrated in the LAS. Many of the students shared stories of being young and interpreting for their parents at medical appointments, or being the “go-to” person for Spanish-speaking patients when working at clinics, even if the person needed help with their children’s school paperwork. Having local interpreters also builds trust in Latinx community members, Sixto said.
North Sound ACH is currently looking for internship sites for the recent graduates of its Medical Interpretation program. Through this internship, the students will practice their communication, translation, and interpretation skills, become familiar with the healthcare environment, and gain confidence to provide excellent services to their clients.
For those already working in the healthcare field, having a certification will enhance their ability to serve their communities, reduce barriers to interpretation services within their organizations, and be recognized and better remunerated for the work.
For those with no experience in the healthcare field, this training and certification might be the beginning of a career in the healthcare industry, as the graduate will be equipped to work at organizations that require medical interpretation and translation for their clients.
In 2023, North Sound ACH will continue to lead efforts with community partners to expand the medical interpretation and certification program to individuals who speak other languages identified in the Language Access Survey.
Organizations that are interested in hosting interns or learning more about this project can contact us at email@example.com.