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Fern Chan, Coordinator for the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program, speaks at the National Conference on Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 (Bronx, NY) - Communication can make a vital difference in the quality of healthcare a patient receives. And in New York City, where over 120 languages are spoken, clear communication can be a matter of life and death.

The University-wide CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program, which is administered by Hostos’ Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development, has been training students to keep those vital lines of communication open in area hospitals since 2009. The program now includes seven institutions within the CUNY system that have established partnerships with major area hospitals, including Lincoln Medical & Mental Health Center, Harlem Hospital and St. Barnabas Hospital, to provide medical interpreter training that meets the diverse needs of our region.

The program has been such a success that it was recently featured on the national stage at DiversityRx’s 8th National Conference on Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations, which was held from March 11 to March 14, 2013, in Oakland, California.

Fern Chan is the Coordinator for the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program and the Director of the CUNY CareerPATH at Hostos. She was invited to the conference to speak about the program, which she believes meets an important need while providing the essential tools for a successful healthcare career. Chan explained how the program works to an international audience of more than 700 of her peers.

Chan, who has been with the Division since 2008, is multilingual. In addition to English, she speaks French, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin. A specialist in developing and coordinating new healthcare training programs, Chan also directs a United States Department of Labor grant-funded initiative that trains unemployed adults for jobs as Community Health Workers and positions in Health Information Technology.

Chan said since the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program was launched in spring 2009, offering Spanish and English at that time, it has expanded to include French, Polish, Mandarin and Haitian-Creole in response to the demographic demands of New York City.

“We live in such a linguistically and culturally diverse city. If you believe that healthcare is a universal human right, then the training we provide is fundamental to helping those with language barriers access the healthcare system,” says Chan.

The program includes 165 hours of core training, but also accommodates those who are looking for a standard minimum 40-hour introductory training program. Chan said what is unique about the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program is its gatekeeper approach, which ensures that no certificate is issued until the student successfully demonstrates interpreter skills (based on written and oral tests) at the end of the 45-hour introductory course.

The program consists of three levels:

  • Level 1 of the program allows students to put their skills to use by volunteering at local hospitals;
  • Level 2 prepares students for the national certification exam administered by either the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters or the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters;
  • Level 3 consists of elective courses in specialized fields that provide ongoing Continuing Education for advanced interpreters.

The program has placed interpreters at several hospitals. Glenn Zuraw, who earned his certificate in 2012, said his participation in the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter program helped him land a job as the Associate Director, Language Access Coordinator at Elmhurst Hospital Center (EHC). Glenn’s participation in over 125 hours of training included 45 hours at City College and 80 hours at Hostos, where he studied such subjects as Healthcare Concepts and Terminology and Skills Development in Consecutive Interpretation.

Having volunteered at Elmhurst Hospital as part of the course requirements, Glenn said that time was critical in terms of preparing him to deal with ethics, standards of practice and role-playing in a professional setting. Glenn, who started his position in February, said that being a qualified medical interpreter requires much more than just the ability to speak another language.

“It takes a special skillset to be able to separate oneself from the role of a provider to assume that of an interpreter. That skillset is based on adhering to the Ethic of Medical Interpreting and Practicing the Standards of Practice, both set forth by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC.)

“Recently, I did an interpretation where the provider told me that we were going to discuss the patient's prior "nephrectomy" (removal of a kidney), and in an instant I could "predict" what the terminology might entail.”

For more information about the CUNY Healthcare Interpreter Program, go to http://www.hostos.cuny.edu/contedu/medical/cunyhealthcare.html

About DiversityRX:

The purpose of DiversityRx is to improve the accessibility and quality of health care for minority, immigrant, and indigenous communities. We support those who develop and provide health services that are responsive to the cultural and linguistic differences presented by diverse populations.

DiversityRx informs, educates, and supports health care providers, policymakers, researchers, and advocates who share our goals. We facilitate the exchange of knowledge and information among professional colleagues. We provide professional development opportunities and offer technical assistance on key practice and policy issues. We also spearhead research and policy development, and advocate for culturally responsive care. For more about the conference, go to:

About Hostos Community College:

Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, part of The City University of New York (CUNY) system, was founded in 1968.  In addition to associate degree programs that facilitate easy transfer to CUNY’s four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions, Hostos also has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Development that offers courses for professional development and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. In four decades, Hostos has grown from a class of 623 in 1970 to more than 7,000 students in 2012. The college also serves an additional 12,000 students through its Division of Continuing Education and Workforce Development. For more news and stories about Hostos Community College, visit www.hostos.cuny.edu

Media Contact:
Soldanela Rivera - srlopez@hostos.cuny.edu
Rich Pietras – rpietras@hostos.cuny.edu
Phone: 718-518-6872 or 917-627-9097 or 718-518-6513

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