Certifiable Success: CultureSmart’s Pre-Certification Intensive Study Group for Medical Interpreters

Ready, Set, Certification! A Guided Precertification Study Group for Medical Interpreters

What made CultureSmart’s first-ever pre-certification study group a certifiable success? A curriculum designed to prepare medical interpreters for certification exams. Sixty-five medical interpreters speaking Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Russian, and Vietnamese. Eight moderators with training and interpreting backgrounds. Hours of collegial interaction in small groups on four Saturdays. Plus epic studying.

The unique program targeted working interpreters, many of whom received training earlier in their careers. Lots of experienced interpreters, though, don’t work with a full range of medical fields and terminology in their day-to-day work. Carla Fogaren, RN, system director of diversity initiatives and interpreter services at Steward Health Care System, who initiated the study group program with CultureSmart to help her team study for exams, said her interpreters were “very, very pleased with the program.”

CultureSmart Precertification Training Team

Carla says vocabulary was a big point of interest for Steward interpreters since certain specialties—such as genetics—pose high risk for mistakes because interpreters are rarely exposed to them. Spanish interpreters found an especially rich environment for broadening their linguistic and cultural competence, Carla says, thanks to a diverse group of interpreters who gained “a lot more depth as far as colloquial expressions and what’s used in different countries.”

Carla also praised moderators’ patience and ability to encourage professional growth among interpreters and was pleased with CultureSmart’s flexibility in compiling a customized curriculum to prepare interpreters for certification tests that are already being implemented. Carla says Steward wanted to “make sure that we always stay ahead of the curve” in expanding the interpreter team’s competencies.

Jane Kontrimas, a CultureSmart language coach who works as a Russian interpreter and as trainer coordinator for interpreter services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, echoed Carla’s observations: the group of Russian interpreters Jane moderated was eager to review and expand their vocabularies. Bringing together groups of interpreters with varied histories was especially useful, says Jane, “These were experienced interpreters but for a few situations, they were glad to bounce ideas off of somebody else or each other.”

CultureSmart’s team of curriculum developers and language coaches designed a series of four sessions that presented:

  •       A targeted curriculum and unique participatory workshop style
  •       Opportunities to practice with linguistically and culturally diverse colleagues
  •       A training facilitator for each language group
  •       Intensive, focused small group coaching at each session
  •       Plenty of time for all that epic studying between the four Saturday sessions
Cheila Mageste, Portuguese Interpreter at Cape Cod Health Care

Cheila Mageste, Portuguese Interpreter

Sixteen hours in the classroom plus individual studying made the program “intense but really nice,” says Cheila Mageste, an interpreter of Portuguese who works at Cape Cod Healthcare. “I feel like I was studying to be a nurse,” says Cheila, “I love it, the way they taught us, all the material, I love it.” Cheila, who signed up for the program independently, thinks she learned more in the pre-certification prep group than when she studied medical interpreting 11 years ago, when she was becoming an interpreter.

The pre-certification prep program presented medical terminology plus logistics and techniques for interpreting. The sessions used frequent role plays that created unique opportunities to simultaneously practice, learn from expert trainers’ critique, and observe colleagues’ techniques. Cheila, who called the methodology “wonderful,” enjoyed all the topics. Detailed discussions of body systems, pathology, medical procedures, and treatments covered such subjects as diabetes, appendectomy, colonoscopy preparation, coronary artery bypass surgery, pacemakers, ectopic pregnancy, cancer, and hydrocephalus.

Ongoing professional growth, notes Jane, who has interpreted for nearly 30 years, is such an important part of an interpreter’s responsibilities that it’s included in professional standards, such as the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care’s National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care. “We can all expand our horizons if we work hard enough,” she says.

Interpreters working at from Brockton Hospital, Cape Cod Healthcare, Caritas Christi Health Care (now Steward Health System), Lowell General Hospital, and SSTAR in Fall River participated in the course.

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