Building bridges: The role of interpreter services in our hospital

Megan Alpers
Tuesday, August 25, 2015

In a bright room within the neurosciences clinic at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, 24-year-old Kirandeep meets with her neurosurgeon, Michael S. B. Edwards, MD. 

As Edwards speaks to Kirandeep and her parents, he also includes Becky Edens in the conversation. Without Edens, this doctor-patient interaction couldn’t happen.

Kirandeep is deaf, and Edens is an American Sign Language medical interpreter, part of a team that helps our staff and patients interact in 10 different languages. Interpreter Services plays a crucial role in providing extraordinary care at our hospital, where an estimated 40 percent of patient families are primarily Spanish-speaking, and many others speak Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Arabic.

“An important distinction between healthcare interpreting and other types of interpreting is that the interpreter is not just a filter,” explains Maria Cifuentes, an interpreter-translator and assistant manager of the Interpreter Services department. “The medical interpreter is actually an active member of the care team—they share the same goal of ensuring the patient’s wellbeing.”

Down the hall from Kirandeep and Edwards, Autumn Ivy, MD, a neurology resident, visits 10-month-old Sofia and her mother. Throughout the appointment, Beatriz Pegueros interprets communication between the doctor and Sofia’s family in Spanish.

Pegueros estimates she meets with six to 12 families like Sofia’s in a typical day, but for some patients, she is needed for much longer sessions. “In the case of transplant or other complex situations, we could be with one family for an entire day as they meet with clinicians, pre- and post-operative teams, social workers, dieticians, and more,” she explains.

Having served for nearly three decades, Pegueros is the longest-tenured interpreter at our hospital. She has seen the department grow from one full-time employee supported by volunteers, to 40 interpreters today.

“We serve all areas of the hospital including intensive care units, surgeries, clinics, the chaplaincy, and more,” says Viviane Vanderwoud, MBA, manager of the department.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, $200,000 in support was provided by the Children’s Fund to the Interpreter Services team in 2014. 

Interpretation differs from translation in that the communication is verbal and takes place in real time. The interpreter must take the information they hear from a doctor or other staff member and render the message into the patient’s primary language, taking into account technical terms and cultural norms, and vice versa.

“For some patients, the interpreters can help bridge a gap,” says Cifuentes.

The interpreter facilitates communication involving vital details of a patient’s care and helps navigate very complex conversations in our hospital’s often-complicated medical cases. 

Spanish interpreters are available in person 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other language interpreters are available in person during business hours and by appointment, or by phone around the clock. In the future, the team hopes to expand their video conferencing abilities and support ongoing training for the 15 relief interpreters.

“The best part of my job is the immediate gratification I receive from being able to help families,” says Pegueros. “Families and doctors understand that I am there to make their lives easier with the goal of providing the best care for our patients.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the Children’s Fund Update.

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