Nurse turns two passions into Language Access Services department

By | 2022-02-21T17:40:32-05:00 December 8th, 2014|0 Comments

In 2007, Tracy Young, BSN, MA, RN, CMI had an idea to combine her two passions — nursing and the Spanish language. A nurse at Barton Health in Lake Tahoe, Calif. and a Spanish instructor for a local community college at the time, Young developed a Language Access Services department at her facility, believing that nursing and patient communication go hand in hand.

“I loved speaking Spanish to my patients and opening up the world of languages to my students,” said Young, now the Language Access Services Coordinator at Barton Health, which includes Barton Memorial Hospital. “Interpreting and nursing are sister professions. I wanted to link the two together.”

In addition to helping patients communicate with nurses, doctors and other caregivers, the LAS department also translates discharge instructions, informational brochures, public announcements and other important documents. The department also provides video and telephonic interpretation and trains new medical interpreters.

“When you have somebody who speaks your language, your anxiety goes down and you heal faster,” Young said. “There’s better patient outcome.”

Upon learning about Barton Health’s LAS program when she started working at the hospital six years ago, Cesilia Uribe, BSN, RN, was intrigued. For Uribe, who is fluent in Spanish, the ability to speak to patients in their primary or native language is an important part of caregiving.

“What’s wonderful about being an RN and an interpreter is that I have the medical background and understand what the providers are telling patients,” said Uribe, who works on the medical/surgical unit and also as a Transitions in Care coach.

“[Because I am] bilingual, nursing supervisors always try to assign me patients whose primary language is Spanish,” Uribe said. “These patients are always grateful that they are able to communicate with their nurse in their native language and they feel more comfortable discussing their needs.”

RN interpreters at Barton Health are paid nursing salaries and work dual roles as interpreters and nurses, Young said. But when called on by physicians or other staff to interpret for patients who are not their own, they leave their nursing roles behind and strictly interpret, Young said. For example, if a patient is telling a physician he or she didn’t take a certain prescribed medication, interpreters are restricted from asking why, and must simply relay the information.

“The challenging part of going from nurse to interpreter, is that interpreters must remain impartial,” Young said. “They cannot take sides with the patient or the provider.”

Although Young describes the field of medical interpreting as still being in its adolescence, she believes the profession will continue to grow.

“As the next generation of nursing students enters the field, the more bilingual and diverse they will be,” Young said. “Hopefully they will walk in both sets of shoes, the interpreter and the RN.”

Barton Health staff interpreter process

Cesilia Uribe, RN

The facility has 30 interpreters, five of whom are RNs. The program is open to staff who pass a proficiency test and complete 60 hours of training.

Interpreters are trained in English but can work in any language they’re proficient in after taking an entrance and exit exam through a national vendor hired by the hospital.

A burgeoning profession when Young started the program at Barton Health, medical interpreting is becoming more common, with bilingual nurses and other healthcare professionals realizing they can better help patients by using their language skills at the bedside.

The Joint Commission in 2012 fully implemented patient-centered communication standards for hospitals, which address qualifications for interpreters and translators. Although not yet required by the Joint Commission, national certification is available.


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