As a volunteer for CHC, I work as a referral specialist and my duties include scheduling referral appointments, sending reminder calls and letters, and organizing transportation for the patient. When I first joined the program, I told my coordinator that I had translating experience, which she was enthusiastic to hear and connected me with the other Spanish-speaking interns in the program. Out of such a huge program, only a handful of students had sufficient language skills to work with their Hispanic population. I found this concerning because the Spanish-speaking community in the surrounding area is large and quickly growing.
The first time I opened the list of Spanish patients was a wakeup call. Instead of a one-day turnaround for scheduling referral appointments, the sheet indicated at least a one to two week delay before these patients were first contacted. They received much less time and effort than their English-speaking counterparts, largely due to lack of capable translators to help them. Approximately two months ago, I completed my first referral for a Spanish-speaking patient. When I picked up the phone to call them, I had my laptop open to my Spanish dictionary and anxiously waited for the dread of needing to look up unfamiliar words. Though I am usually confident in my language skills, I lacked training in medical Spanish and felt inadequate.
When the patient answered, I quickly asked my rehearsed questions to help her schedule an appointment. Without delay, she replied fervently, explaining that she had been trying to do it herself for weeks with no such luck due to her limited English. Having asked her the necessary questions, I hung up with a promise to callback once it was scheduled. Once I put down my phone, I realized I had spoken to the patient the entire time, without using the dictionary I had pulled up. Most importantly, despite the remote nature of this type of translating, I had understood the patient, and she had understood me. I successfully navigated my first Spanish referral and afterwards felt confident in my abilities to help similar individuals. When I called her to confirm her appointment, the sound of utter relief in her voice cemented why I continue my language studies and translation work. I want to be a physician who can serve as many people as I can. Working with Spanish speaking patients showed me the dramatic impact that social factors have on patients’ health and wellness. I am excited to become even better with medical translation - and continue broadening my ability to help patients from diverse backgrounds.