Diversity Reflection – Marisol Barrera

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Marisol Barrera is amused by the well-intentioned efforts some people make to break through language barriers. 

“DOES YOUR HEAD HURT?” she will hear someone ask a Spanish-speaking patient, loudly, just before she steps in to help.

“They’re not deaf,” she says, laughing as she recalls the common occurrence. “They just don’t speak the language.”

Originally from Mexico, Marisol is one of 11 Spanish interpreters in the Medical Center’s Service Excellence Department, bridging the gap between clinical staff and the Spanish-speaking patient population.

She takes a call from a Hispanic patient, who tells her, simply, “I have an appointment at Baptist.” The patient has made it as far as the Medical Center information desk, where a guest service representative has put him in touch with Interpreter Services.

“What type of clinic?” Marisol prompts, trying to help him locate the appropriate facility.

“I don’t know. It’s there at Baptist.”

“What type of sickness do you have?” 

A description follows – fever, chills, a cough – and with that, Marisol is able track down the location of the appointment. It’s a tricky process at times, especially when the name is misspelled, ever so slightly, within the clinic scheduling system.

“We’re kind of investigators sometimes,” Marisol says.

Detective work aside, most of her work involves routine interpreter services, in various clinical areas throughout the Medical Center. Marisol’s job is to interpret exactly what a physician or nurse says, word for word, and to make sure the patient or family member understands.

Often, she’s communicating something as simple as proper treatment for a head cold. But her role also encompasses the broad spectrum of highs and lows in the medical world – from telling a patient, “Your cancer is cured” to holding a mother’s hand as she cradles her lifeless baby for the last time.

For Spanish-speaking patients, having the support of someone who shares their language and cultural background makes a big difference.

“Most are very thankful that there’s somebody here who speaks their language,” Marisol says. “Fortunately, this hospital has interpreters. Not all hospitals do.”

The job of an interpreter involves more than familiarity with the language, however.

Marisol understands cultural differences that can impact health care. Hispanic people, for instance, consider it disrespectful to question a knowledgeable individual. A patient may nod in understanding, just to be polite, when a doctor explains a diagnosis or course of treatment. In reality, the patient may be confused by technical medical terms – even when hearing them in their own language.

“They’ll nod their head, regardless,” Marisol said. She has learned to watch for non-verbal cues like eyes darting around the room instead of focusing on the physician. “You might want to say it in simpler terms,” she will tell the doctor, alternately interpreting and verifying the patient’s comprehension until she’s sure the necessary information is understood.

It was the needs of Winston-Salem’s Hispanic community that drew Marisol to the city 10 years ago. Her family was living in central California at the time, in an area with growing gang violence, and Marisol and her husband wanted to find a safer community for their young son.

Friends had relocated to the area not long before, and had spoken highly of the family-friendly community. But it was the needs of the area’s Hispanic population that provided the real draw for Marisol.

“I was told they needed a lot of bilingual help here,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Marisol has responded eagerly to the needs of Spanish-speaking people of Winston-Salem. In addition to her work at the Medical Center, she frequently provides interpreter services at church, at health fairs and at her children’s school.

“We volunteer a lot,” she says of her family. “I teach my kids to help out.” Daniel, 16, volunteers with her at health fairs, and Ricardo, 5, helps interpret for classmates who have not yet learned English.

“I’m always teaching them to help other people,” she says.

For Marisol, helping others has proven to be rewarding − particularly in the 7 years she has worked for the Medical Center.

“I love my job,” she says. “I feel a sense of fulfillment that I’m helping out.” 

Last Updated: 09-09-2013
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