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Journey of a DPT Student


Published February 4, 2014 12:44 PM by Lauren Rosso

I had my first evaluation via interpreter this week, leaving me certain that I'll attempt to learn Spanish when I'm done with school. There are a few things that I realized when the interpreter was translating the eval. First of all, interview "cadence" is not something you usually think about. I was uncomfortable and novel to the situation, stumbled over my words and awkwardly inserted pauses into my questions, which ultimately made me lose my train of thought. It took a while to figure out, but thankfully the interpreter managed well enough.

Second, body language is essential. At first, the interactions felt cold. I really rely on basic conversation, including small talk, to build rapport and make patients feel comfortable. That, obviously, was impossible during this evaluation. What I found was that by paying attention to my body language and interaction with the patient and his mother, I could build a similarly personable relationship without using "spoken" words.

Third, efficiency is key. For what normally would have taken 10 minutes, just obtaining a history through the interpreter took at least 20. When I looked at my watch and realized how much time was passing, I found myself prioritizing the key parts of the exam and saving the rest for subsequent visits. Efficiency is definitely a skill that we students develop over time. I'm not quite there, so this was a huge challenge while at the same time being a great lesson.

I never would have imagined I could learn so much from reflecting on one evaluation. I'll work toward my goal of learning Spanish after this semester is over, but in the meantime I need to master my interpreter-aided evaluations and treatment sessions. It's a fun challenge.

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Working with a translator is definitely an awkward situation for me still as a third year DPT student. I had my first experience on my first clinical in which my CI used a phone translator to talk to a patient. It was interesting because she couldn't figure out where to look - the patient or the phone?! Definitely awkward, but if it came down to it necessary!

I also sat through several treatments with a translator on my last clinical, working with children in the heme/onc clinic. I did not get to perform the sessions myself, as my CI decided she would take over and do the sessions (she knew the families, she had a small background of Spanish, hated not doing anything and letting me lead, and we always seemed rushed).

Not having done one completely myself I appreciate the insight into how it goes and what I can look for when I use a translator for the first time. I'm sure it gets easier with practice! I also have the plan to learn Spanish when I graduate...we shall see if I actually follow through! Did you?

Danielle McKinnis March 28, 2014 1:30 PM

Thanks for the interesting post and your observations on “cadence,” body language and efficiency as a caregiver. I’m writing from the perspective of a first-year DPT student whose Bachelor’s degree is in International Studies with two minors in both French and Spanish. I graduated in 2006 from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, so this is something of a second (third?) career for me. While I’m originally from South Miami, and have significant multicultural experience both as an academic and as a professional dancer, I have approached the subject of medical interpretation with some timidity.

I do speak Spanish fluently, conversationally. At different times in my life I have been more or less fluent, depending on my needs and environment. I have also used French professionally, but my skills in that language have somewhat lapsed since I haven’t spoken daily French since 2006. As with everything, if you don’t use it, you lose it!

What I have learned is that medical interpretation is a highly specific, credentialed skill set. Licensed interpreters are often certified as a Community Facilitator or a Medical Translator, but some are able to pass the credentialing exam without continuing education certificates. Due to the highly sensitive and protected legal nature of medical information and consent, these professionals and their employers have a burden of liability.

I am still hopeful that as a busy DPT student, I can find the time and make the connections to engage in enrichment and continuing education that will enhance my effectiveness as a bilingual PT. Bilingual rehab specialists are so clearly a need in our profession! So far, I have purchased a workbook with Medical Spanish exercises on Amazon, which I intend to work during my upcoming clinical rotation. This summer, I hope to start volunteering at our affiliated hospital in the Volunteer department with the Interpreter Services program. From there, I should have a lot more information on how I can blend my skills and what other kinds of education and experience I can pursue.

I would love to hear any advice from your readers on how to self-study to improve medical language skills!

Laura Kraich, , SPT ECU March 9, 2014 4:25 PM
Greenville NC

I am currently on my last clinical and it is in a pediatric home health setting.  We are visiting many rural areas and I have had the opportunity to work with several Spanish speaking families.  Even though an interpreter meets us at the house, I also want to sharpen up on my Spanish speaking skills so that I can better interact and communicate and feel more comfortable with these patients!  Even though am I not even close to being fluent in Spanish you pick up on certain words that help get you through the evaluations as well as treatment sessions.  I am working with children so body language and facial expressions are key.  Being excited and motivating through my actions enable me to get my point across and interact with these children despite any language barrier.  Being a bilingual PT would be a great skill to have, and I hope one day that I will be able to achieve that goal to better serve my patients.  

Erin February 12, 2014 3:37 PM

I am also in school (DPT) and have had some experience with Spanish but am out of practice.  I have wanted to study but don’t know when to find the time.  I am not sure it is realistic to think that I will find the time when I am done with school and working full-time, but I am holding out hope.

Your insight about using body language to add warmth to an interaction is interesting and something I will try and practice.  Like you, I tend to use light hearted small talk and humor to put people at ease.  It would be very difficult to interact without these options.  I have been to foreign countries and had some experience communicating despite a language barrier but have never worked with an interpreter.  Hopefully I will remember your experience when that time comes.

Jon, DPT - Student, ECU February 8, 2014 11:44 AM
Greenville NC

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