Translating for patients
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 22, 2004
Pinning ceremony milestone for 1st bilingual nurses class

Louie Villalobos
Jessica Sanchez Zavala, 29, has always translated for people around her who don't speak English.

The Goodyear resident is a first-generation American whose family is from Mexico, so she understands that people who don't speak English may need help communicating in places like grocery stores, post offices or public schools.

"There's always a need for translation, everywhere," she said. "If I see them struggling, I just offer."

So it seemed like a natural fit for her when she learned about a program that would teach her to translate for people in need of medical attention but with no way of saying so in English.

Now the Agua Fria High School graduate is two years into the Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program being offered by South Mountain and GateWay community colleges and is one of about 20 students in the first class of the program.

The students recently gathered at South Mountain Community College for a pinning ceremony that officially made them practical nurses and, more importantly to Zavala, meant they will be registered nurses in one year.

"This is very exciting," she said before the ceremony. "A lot of us didn't know if we'd make it this far."

Program officials said they had little doubt that the students would reach this point of the program or that the graduates will help the state meet a growing need for bilingual nurses.

In 2000, Arizona had only 83 percent of the registered nurses it needed, according to a recent study by the Maricopa Community College District. By next year, there will be enough RNs to fill only 79 percent of the
positions, the study said.

Teresa Rojas, president of the Phoenix chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, said 4 percent of the nurses in Arizona are bilingual and only 2 percent of the nursing students in the state have that skill.

"I think we are going to increase those numbers pretty soon," she said.

During Zavala's pinning ceremony, Tony Bracamante, director of the bilingual nurses program, announced that the program was recently awarded an additional $250,000 by lawmakers. He said that will allow for a fourth group of students to begin the training.

"That is really important, because in a few years, we'll have 100 students that speak Spanish fluently," he said.