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AZ: UA students fill interpreter demand in health care

Friday, April 17, 2009

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) ? An unnecessary hospital stay. A misunderstood legal ruling.

Those can be consequences of a language barrier, and University of Arizona interpreting students are helping bridge the communication gap.

"We need help because it's as if we were blind" without the interpreters, Juana Cortes, 48, said as a nurse checked her vital signs during a recent doctor's visit.
At her side was student volunteer Alfonso Robles, 19, a premed student in Conversantes, a class in the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona.

Through the course, which started in 2004, the students are meeting the growing demand for interpreters and translators in the health field, said Alejandra Zapien, a professor of Conversantes.

The class, along with multiple interpretation efforts in Arizona, is starting to collaborate with a university program called Concentration and Interpretation for the Legal and Health Care Field. The program has grown from 35 students in 2006 to 140 in the current semester.

"There is great interest on the students' part," said program coordinator Jaime Fatas. The program is run jointly by the UA Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Mexican-American Studies and Research Center. "This is a bachelor's degree; it is an emerging field for which there is a big demand."

And an obligation, Fatas said.

"To do a good job, a doctor needs complete information," he said. "(We're doing this) so our students get some experience and at the same time help organizations provide equal access to their public services."

More than one-quarter of Arizona residents do not speak English at home, according to the most recent Census data. Federal laws require any organization that receives government funds to provide interpretation services.

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The benefits include lowering medical costs, said Oscar Beita, associate director at the Office of Outreach and Multicultural Affairs at the UA College of Medicine.

Misunderstandings stemming from bad communication can result in an incorrect diagnosis, unnecessary lab tests and prolonged hospitalizations, Beita said.

The demand for translators and interpreters goes beyond hospitals.
"Communicating is so vital," said Alejandra Torres, a student and volunteer interpreter. She interprets at the UA Domestic Violence Law Clinic, and is currently translating a manual about divorce at Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

Between two and five students who are part of the Concentration and Interpretation program help out interpreting at the Domestic Violence Law Clinic. Others help at Southern Arizona Legal Aid in the family and immigration area, Fatas said.

Growing demand for these services has spurred Arizona State University, the Maricopa County Community College District, Midwestern University, the Arizona Area Health Education Center and others to join UA in a medical Spanish initiative, Fatas and Beita said.

The UA College of Medicine also has an exchange program for which students can live in Hermosillo, Sonora, while they help out at a hospital there. Another program places students in clinics and hospitals in Nogales, Sonora.

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