Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
The Sharewood Project, a volunteer-run, Tufts-affiliated medical clinic that provides free healthcare services, in January launched a partnership with Found in Translation, a nonprofit organization that trains low-income, bilingual women to be medical interpreters.
The new relationship between the two groups provides improved patient care for Sharewood clients and job opportunities for Found in Translation graduates.
Sharewood is run by medical students and physicians affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) and the Cambridge Health Alliance, as well as other Tufts health professional students. Tufts undergraduates also play a role at the clinic — they facilitate patient intake and patient flow throughout the clinic and conduct initial patient assessments.
The idea for the partnership began as a school project for TUSM students Marc Kimball and Jessica Gonzalez. The duo recognized a need for translation services at the clinic that was not being addressed, Kimball, advancement team administer on the Sharewood Executive Board, explained.
“Most of our patients didn’t speak English, and we didn’t have the appropriate language services,” he said.
Laura Glick, president of the Sharewood Undergraduate Board, has seen an increased need for translation services based on the population the clinic serves during her two years with Sharewood. She believes the high need for translation services at Sharewood is due to both the clinic’s location and the wide range of free services it provides.
“[Sharewood] does accept patients regardless of economic status, no matter whether they have insurance, no matter whether they are a legal or illegal immigrant, so I think that is probably an important aspect in why we have such a diverse patient population,” Glick, a senior, said.
The partnership with Found in Translation has already created a profound impact on patient care at the clinic, according to Kimball.
“The standard [of] care we are giving our patients has risen dramatically — things that would ... normally take a couple of hours to do or situations that would be sticky because people have social issues they don’t want to talk about or they don’t know how to talk about, all of that has been completely avoided,” he said. “Language is no longer an issue.”
Glick explained that having an interpreter with no relation to the patient is preferable to relying on the assistance of a bilingual family member or friend because it allows private concerns to be more easily and directly addressed.
“When patients feel more comfortable, they are more willing to explain their entire situation, how they feel, what symptoms they have and what services they need,” she said. “Not having to overcome a language barrier is helpful to make sure they are receiving care and that we are giving them the services that they need.”
Sharewood is entirely volunteer-operated, so translators are being paid directly by Found in Translation, according to Executive Director Maria Vertkin. While the organization only has funding to continue the partnership until June, Vertin hopes to raise enough funds to establish a long-term relationship with the clinic. She also wants to expand to assist other clinics in need of interpretation services.
The partnership serves the two-part mission of Found in Translation — allowing low-income, bilingual women to capitalize on their language skills by entering the professional world of medical interpreting and helping fight disparities in health care, according to Vertkin. The partnership has helped boost employment placement rates for graduates in a difficult job market, she noted.
“By being medical interpreters and working at a place like Sharewood that doesn’t have the funds to afford their own medical interpretation, we are living out the second part of our mission — we are giving equal access to health care to patients who otherwise would never get it,” Vertkin told the Daily.
Found in Translation graduates both provide medical interpretation services and teach workshops to TUSM students on topics ranging from cultural competency to how to collaborate successfully with interpreters, Vertin said. Found in Translation will also help train fluent, bilingual TUSM students to use another language effectively in medical settings.
The interpreters increase publicity for the clinic and draw more patients, providing the over 400 Tufts undergraduates on the Sharewood listserv with additional opportunities to volunteer, Glick explained.
“[Patients] who may have shied away from coming before because of the language barrier can now have the opportunity to receive the services that we offer,” she said.