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American Annals of the Deaf

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In Our Hands: Educating Healthcare Interpreters
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Since then, other notable works useful in the education of signed language interpreters to work in healthcare settings have included video material on mental health interpreting, (Treehouse Video, 1997); Metzger’s (1999) book, which examines the participant role of the interpreter in mock medical situations and dispels the myth of neutrality; the series of healthcare interpreting CDs and DVDs with self-study guides developed under RSA funds awarded to St. Catherine University (2000–2005),[2] a training curriculum for healthcare interpreters in British Columbia (Humphrey & Harry, 2000);[3] the work of Dean and Pollard (e.g., 2001) and Dean, Pollard, and English (2004), which is related to the demand-control schema and decision latitude as applied to healthcare settings; and a website with resources for ASL-English healthcare interpreters and educators (www.healthcareinterpreting.org). Still, there are no widely recognized textbooks on ASL-English healthcare interpreting and relatively few journal articles on teaching healthcare interpreters who work between a signed language and a spoken language. In addition, despite the existence of research studies and journal articles in related fields, such as spoken language interpreting in healthcare settings, health communication, and applied linguistics, these sources seem underutilized in the education of ASL-English interpreters.

The general field of healthcare is expanding rapidly, and a variety of advances from new drugs and treatments to the provision of healthcare at a distance via technology. The patient population is also shifting: The population of elders is growing, and the number of immigrants and refugees in the healthcare system is increasing. Policies on a wide range of topics from language access to insurance are being examined and changed. Spoken language interpreting organizations have mobilized and now have two national certifying bodies for healthcare interpreters working between spoken languages (see Downing & Ruschke, this volume). Yet the field of signed language interpreting seems relatively complacent in regard to healthcare interpreting education even amid the activity in these related areas. As stakeholders in this field, we must take active roles in examining both the work of healthcare interpreters and the research and resources available in our field and related ones. These areas should inform our work, and our goal should be the development and implementation of teaching and learning opportunities that foster the knowledge and competencies that are vital for healthcare interpreters. In that spirit, this volume presents the following chapters.

The first section of the volume features approaches to best practices for educating healthcare interpreters. We begin with the chapter by Swabey and Craft Faber, which discusses the development of domains and competencies for medical and mental health interpreters. Their discussion of the use of these documents during the first National Symposium on Healthcare Interpreting points us toward developing teaching methodology that addresses the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for medical interpreting and mental health interpreting.

Following this, we read of a creative use of a discourse approach to preparing healthcare interpreters, one developed in Australia. Major, Napier, and Stubbe engaged students with discourse analysis techniques and worked with transcripts and recordings of actual healthcare interactions. Their activities can also be modified to work with interpreters using either a different signed language or a spoken language.

Next, Crump presents an overview of a model program in Alabama that prepares interpreters to work in mental health settings. She describes the many challenges that interpreters face in such venues and then outlines the Alabama program and the way it effectively prepares interpreters to work in this environment.

Two of the instructors in the Alabama program are the authors of our next chapter. Dean and Pollard detail the efficacy of their Demand-Control Schema (DCS) and show how it can be applied to preparing interpreters for healthcare settings, both medical and mental health. Their specific description of its use for educating healthcare interpreters is both timely and engaging.

A number of authors throughout this volume comment on the possibility that healthcare interpreters will experience vicarious trauma, making the next chapter apropos. Bontempo and Malcolm review the literature, describe the negative effects of vicarious trauma, and discuss strategies for educating students to avoid it or, if already affected, to manage their reactions in healthy and constructive ways.

Moving next in a new direction, we take a look at online education for healthcare interpreters. Bowen-Bailey describes the need for online educational opportunities that satisfy the criteria for effective education. He considers both Bloom’s taxonomy and Vygotsky’s approaches and applies these principles in his description of an online educational experience he designed.


2. The majority of these materials were developed by Doug Bowen-Bailey (Digiterp) and were initially coordinated by Paula Gajewski Mickelson and Richard Laurion (SLICES) through the Region VRSA grant at St. Catherine’s, directed by Laurie Swabey. For further information see www.healthcareinterpreting.org.

3. This curriculum also included video materials developed by Nigel Howard, Karen Malcolm, and David Still.


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