Classes teach bilinguals to be medical interpreters
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 25, 2005
Class teaches bilinguals how to be hospital interpreters
Betty Reid


PHOENIX - Barbara Rayes could not tell the father of their newborn daughter that the child might not live long enough to leave the hospital.

It was not the mother's intent to withhold information. It had to do with an inability to explain their child's complicated medical condition in clear Spanish.

Rayes remembers that day in 1991 when she struggled to communicate in Spanish, not her native language but one she thought she had mastered.

 "Next to a person who doesn't speak my language, I'm not only deaf, but I'm mute," Rayes said. "I can't talk, and I need somebody to help me talk."

Rayes realized, years later, she is not alone - especially in Phoenix where 1.3 million Latinos live. Many are immigrants who speak only Spanish. Valley medical centers, including Phoenix Children's Hospital, responded by adding Spanish-language interpreters in 1996.

Her little girl's death inspired Rayes to charge into the interpreter field in 1996. Then she turned into a master teacher and now is Phoenix Children's Hospital's coordinator of translator services.

She wrote a book titled Spanish Bilingual Assistant Program in 2004.

Thanks to a grant for the University of Arizona Hispanic Center of Excellence and PCH, the Medical Interpreter Project trained 750 interpreters and bilingual assistants in the Valley, and more than 30 medical interpreter trainers at Arizona hospitals over 10 years.

Now Rayes, who wrote the curriculum, is charged with taking that curriculum instruction to the national level, thanks to another $250,000 grant. Ronald McDonald House Charities Inc. donated the funds to PCH on Thursday.

Rayes will use the existing curriculum to teach other bilingual speakers employed at other children's hospitals across the country. Her mission is to improve communication and safety with Spanish-speaking families over the next two years. At least 20 bilingual students, employees from other children's hospitals, will attend her class in February.

Irma Ulloa Bustamante, PCH's manager of language and cultural services, said taking such a model to the national level is a significant step. To get the interpretation off the ground in Arizona was a long, long process, Bustamante said.

"Barbara is really, really bright. She just works so hard. She's a born teacher," she said. Not too long ago, Valley hospitals relied on other bilingual employees to help interpret. PCH's Medical Interpreter Project was hatched in 2001 with funding coming from St. Luke's Health Initiatives.

Rayes' potential students, who must be bilingual, will learn about medical ethics, medical jargon and medical behavior. Learning medical vocabulary in Spanish is a must in the class, but students also can expect to learn about bridging two cultures.

Just because an individual is bilingual doesn't mean that the individual can accurately translate medical terms.

Students "did not grow up with their mother talking about ketones in Spanish," Rayes said. "They talked about things that happened at home in Spanish. Like cleaning the house, fixing the food and things like that."