In the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, Brandon Perez, 6, busies himself with a game on his tablet while his mother asks questions about his treatment in her native language. Pediatric oncologist Dr. Prasad Bodas and resident Dr. Nicholas Ferris work in a few Spanish phrases and words they know, but it’s medical interpreter Emily Lanier who helps Brandon and his parents understand the next steps in his treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
The work of Lanier and her fellow medical interpreters in the Language and Special Access Services Department was in the spotlight at Akron Children’s Hospital July 9-12 for Interpreting Week. Four days of lunch-and-learn programs were organized by department manager Roula Braidy to educate hospital staff about its services as well as some of the communities and cultures it serves.
“I am hoping to make Interpreting Week a yearly event to help spread awareness across the organization about the importance of using qualified medical interpreters with our patients,” she said. The hospital has 3 medical interpreters on staff and 17 independent contractors who help patients and their families at no charge.
During a panel discussion, several of the hospital’s medical interpreters explained their role. Braidy said interpreters translate everything said in discussions between providers and patients and their families.
“I cannot give advice,” she said. “I have to make sure it comes from a nurse, a doctor or someone with authority.”
But medical interpreter do more than just translate speech; they also serve as “cultural brokers,” clarifiers and advocates for patients.
“We have two roles: to educate our patients and educate our staff,” she said.
In some cases, that can mean explaining a concept for which there is no corresponding word. For instance, Braidy said there’s no word for fever in her native Arabic, so she has to explain that in other ways.
“We’re all part of the same team,” said Silvia Edwards, a Spanish interpreter. “We’re not always translating word for word but the meaning of things.”
Braidy also invited those who work with non-English speakers to share information during the week about the communities they serve. Dave Callender and Lisa Miller, volunteers with Latino Cultural Connections, talked to staff about the surge in newcomers from Guatemala to New Philadelphia and Dover. Callender said rural Tuscarawas County’s Latino population is now at about 5%.
“A lot of these families come to Akron Children’s Hospital,” Callender said. “We know they’ll be served well here.”
He added that different villages in Guatemala have their own languages, so often Spanish is the second language for these families.
Braidy said in addition to supporting non-English speakers, her department also helps those with hearing and vision impairments. Among the other programs during the week was a presentation on the needs of those who are sight challenged from the Akron Blind Center.
“We provide services like braille translation and volunteers to help escort families to where they need to go,” Braidy said.
Back in oncology, as Brandon is administered a new treatment, translator Lanier makes sure to let doctors know that his mother said he’s not fond of needles. But Dr. Bodas tells her Brandon did great.
“We’re very proud of him,” he said. As Lanier translates, Brandon’s mother smiles.