The Art of Medical Interpretation: Service-Learning on the Eastern Shore (Abstract)

My interest in medicine and my experience working as an interpreter in the past have led me to the question—what makes a good medical interpreter? In my conversations with interpreters and other medical personnel, I have observed a wide variety of opinion in how a medical interpreter should act, and what values should be considered during the interpretation process. Furthermore, there have been attempts to standardize medical interpretation practices and to apply interpretation theory towards better practice. However, there is still much debate over the “right” way to interpret and the ideal qualities of a medical interpreter.

My Monroe project answers this question from a practical perspective. I will be participating in an interpretation project on the Eastern Shore through a William & Mary externship. The Eastern Shore Rural Health System (ESRHS) is a community health organization that consists of five medical centers located along the Shore from Chincoteague Island to Cape Charles. They provide a range of health services for Hispanic migrant farmworkers in the region, and for my project I will serve as a medical interpreter for these Spanish-speaking patients.

Two of medicine’s greatest challenges today are the care of underserved populations and non-English speaking populations. Migrant farmworkers on the Eastern Shore fall in both of these categories, and working in this unique setting will certainly influence my current views on medical interpretation for vulnerable populations. My research will also include the observation of on-site interpreters, interviews with clinic employees, and literature-based research on current interpretation theory. At the end of my externship, I will write about my experiences and draw conclusions about the qualities that a good interpreter should have, and techniques that good interpreters use. Ultimately, I hope that my experiences improve my own interpretation abilities and broaden my views of how medical personnel can tackle cultural challenges.