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Closing the distance: Technology helps train Oregon’s medical interpreters

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by James HillThere’s new help for non-English speakers in Oregon if they become injured or need hospitalization. Last year, the state passed a law requiring state certification of medical interpreters. In response, Portland Community College’s Institute for Health Professionals (IHP) has teamed with the Oregon Health Care Center to train the needed workforce in languages such as Russian, Spanish, Farsi, Vietnamese and Japanese.medical interpreter.The partners have begun linking PCC’s medical interpreting classes — with help from the Distance Learning department at PCC — to remote locations throughout the state.Cheryl Tuggy, who has worked at Silverton Hospital as a medical interpreter for the last 10 years, took the course last year. “It was very helpful,” she said. “The remote site at Chemeketa Community College was five minutes from my house so it worked out very well.”“The goal of interpreting,” she added, “is to be communication friendly and culturally sensitive. To be able to communicate to all of these cultures is really important for a hospital.”The certification course is offered at the college’s Central Portland Workforce Training Center in southeast Portland. But since many hospitals in the state aren’t located near Portland, the IHP now offers the course on a television-based distance learning network. It brings PCC to classrooms all over the state — from other community colleges like Chemeketa Community College to hospitals in Ashland, Bend and Medford.The link-up helps rural hospitals develop qualified medical interpreters for their needs. Hospitals need the assistance of a translator to help doctors and nurses treat the growing number of patients unable to speak English. Gary Wappes, president of the Oregon Health Career Center, helped secure two $75,000 grants from Oregon’s Community Colleges and Workforce Development department. The grants will establish the technical piece of the network, fund adjunct faculty to teach courses and recruit students. Wappes said this network of distance learning sites helps the hospitals cultivate a pool of qualified interpreters.“This is invaluable,” Wappes said. “Quite often hospitals, especially in small and rural areas, don’t have the demand for a full-time interpreter but need to find current workers who can be trained and be released from their job to help. The language barriers are frustrating but also dangerous in a hospital setting. The interpreters are a valuable tool.” The medical interpreting courses provide 60 hours of classwork and 30 hours of in-hospital training called a practicum. From PCC’s distance learning classroom at the Central Portland Workforce Training Center and at the Sylvania Campus, the class is linked up to sites across the state. Students take courses in terminology, anatomy and physiology, and health care interpreting. In the classroom’s Interactive Television (ITV) setting, there are as many as 40 students at a remote classroom. The instructor at the PCC site has an interactive computer screen and can see each of the sites across the state, discuss topics and answer questions from the students, as well as present multimedia presentations.“It changes some traditional dynamics,” said Maria Michalczyk, education coordinator for the Institute for Health Professionals. “You can’t convey some things you can in a regular classroom. The tradeoff however is that it’s convenient.”The plan is to not only train medical interpreters for remote areas, but also spur them on to be mentors and teachers for future students and help lead on-site practicums. “We recruit students who would be great leaders. The idea is to spread the clinical out through the state,” she added.###Institute for Health Professionals growth reflects industry needsThe PCC Institute for Health Professionals (IHP) consists of a wide array of training programs, continuing education classes and new learning opportunities for professionals. The demand for continuing and on-going training in the health care industry translates to strong growth for the PCC program. The institute expects nearly 7,400 students this year, compared to 4,935 students in 2001, a 50 percent increase.The program offers certificates in nursing assistant, health care interpreter, emergency medical provider, phlebotomy, adult foster care and medication aide.The IHP also provides training to help professionals stay current in their jobs, in areas such as nursing, behavioral health, addiction care and emergency medical professionals. The program works with more than 15 associations and boards to help provide continuing education classes.A broad array of hospital systems contract with IHP for training thousands of their employees, including OHSU, Legacy, Kaiser and Providence. The program also manages health care conferences for groups like emergency medical services and radiology. There are always new opportunities for health care professionals. Currently, the program offers training for the long-term care sector, dental radiography, medical lab histology and automatic external defibrillator training.From providing certificate courses, specialized training, conferences or distance learning, the Institute for Health Professionals is meeting the needs of Oregon health professionals.

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »