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Health Care Interpreter Program achieves national accreditation

The fall 2013 Health Care Interpreter class, led by director Espi Ralston (standing far left).
The fall 2013 Health Care Interpreter class, led by director Espi Ralston (standing far left).
University of Memphis

The Health Care Interpreter Program in the University of Memphis’ School of Public Health has achieved national distinction as the first program in the country to become accredited by the International Association of Medical Interpreters. The program was developed as part of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative to increase the number of medical interpreters and improve access to quality health care for limited or non-English speaking patients. The Health Care Interpreter Program is geared toward bilingual individuals. The curriculum covers the basic principles of medical interpreting such as legal requirements, the roles of the interpreter, modes of interpreting, protocols for managing the session, standards of practice, code of ethics, culture, word-building structure, medical terminology, basic anatomy and the U.S. health care system.

Since 2007, the program has trained about 150 interpreters. Graduates work in virtually all of the major health institutions in the area, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, Church Health Center, Christ Community Health Center, the Shelby County Health Department, West Tennessee Healthcare and other locations in Mississippi and Arkansas.

The need for professionally certified interpreters in health care is recognized by the Joint Commission, the American Medical Association and other major medical institutions. “Effective communication is the cornerstone of patient safety, and providing qualified interpreters is key to enhancing access to health care for all,” said Dr. Marian Levy, assistant dean of the School of Public Health. “We are delighted to house the Interpreter Program in the School of Public Health and proud of its national accreditation.”

The training is held on three consecutive weekends and consists of 40 hours of classroom instruction. A subsequent 10-hour practicum shadowing takes place at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Methodist University Hospital and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. The next class begins in May.

“Our program plays a major role in collaborating with hospitals and medical facilities to help provide equitable access to all their patients,” said Espi Ralston, program director and course instructor. “We are extremely proud to have the program at the University of Memphis School of Public Health and to be the pioneers in the accreditation process.”