Implementing a medical student interpreter training program as a strategy to developing humanism

Alvaro F. Vargas Pelaez, Sarah I. Ramirez, Chavely Valdes Sanchez, Shady Piedra Abusharar, Jose C. Romeu, Connor Carmichael, Soraya Bascoy, Rose Baron, Ariana Pichardo-Lowden, Nathalia Albarracin, Claire C. Jones, Patricia Silveyra

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18 Scopus citations


Background: Humanistic care in medicine has shown to improve healthcare outcomes. Language barriers are a significant obstacle to humanistic care, and trained medical interpreters have demonstrated to effectively bridge the gap for the vulnerable limited English proficiency (LEP) patient population. One way in which medical schools can train more humanistic physicians and provide language access is through the implementation of programs to train bilingual medical students as medical interpreters. The purpose of this prospective study was to evaluate whether such training had an impact on bilingual medical student's interpretation skills and humanistic traits. Methods: Between 2015 and 2017, whole-day (~ 8 h) workshops on medical interpretation were offered periodically to 80 bilingual medical students at the Penn State College of Medicine. Students completed a series of questionnaires before and after the training that assessed the program's effectiveness and its overall impact on interpretation skills and humanistic traits. Students also had the opportunity to become certified medical interpreters. Results: The 80 student participants were first- to third- year medical students representing 21 languages. Following training, most students felt more confident interpreting (98%) and more empathetic towards LEP patients (87.5%). Students' scores in the multiple-choice questions about medical interpretation/role of the interpreter were also significantly improved (Chi-Square test, p < 0.05). All students who decided to take the exam were able to successfully become certified interpreters. Ninety-two percent of participants reported they would recommend the program and would be willing to serve as a future "coaches" for interpreter training workshops delivered to peer students. Conclusions: Our program was successful in increasing self-reported measures of empathy and humanism in medical students. Our data suggests that implementation of medical interpreter training programs can be a successful strategy to develop of humanism in medical students, and aid in the development of sustainable language access for LEP patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number141
JournalBMC medical education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 18 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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