Bilingual high school students interested in health careers and helping others have a way to do both.

Twenty-one students from Columbus North, Columbus East and Seymour are wrapping up their Bridging the Gap medical interpreter class at Columbus East High School.

The five-week class met from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays.

During the final class April 17, students took a 50-question exam. They had to get at least 70 percent correct in order to pass the class and earn a certificate of completion, which allows them to volunteer at local medical facilities.

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In the first four years of the class, 37 students and 12 adults qualified.

Analia Lang, who has worked as a medical interpreter for 15 years, served as the instructor. She works at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

The local program is a collaborative effort among C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, which provides career and technical education to high school students in Bartholomew and the adjacent counties of Jackson, Brown, Decatur and part of Johnson; Columbus Regional Health; and East Indiana Area Health Education Center in Batesville.

Every student must be bilingual to enroll, but Lang said fluency in multiple languages is just a part of the puzzle. Lang said students not only need to have the knowledge of two languages but also must have practical knowledge in order to assist the patient as well as making sure the doctor understands everything.

Lang said students need to know the body systems and how they work, names and functions of the organs and common and uncommon illnesses.

Class size is capped at 25; and in past years, the class has had some adult participants. Students must arrange their own transportation to Columbus East.

Participation was up this year compared with last year’s nine students and one adult.

Win-win situation

Having trained bilingual medical interpreters results in improved quality of care for patients, wherever they receive care, said Laura Hurt, president of Our Hospice of South Central Indiana.

For class members, the training enhances their opportunity to be employed or contribute to their communities as a volunteer, Hurt said. The skills raise their self-esteem and employment prospects, she said.

Dulce Hernandez and classmates Rosa Bonilla and Luz Yanez have found that while they were fluent in Spanish, the terminology in the medical field took work to comprehend.

Before enrolling in the class, the three were doing some interpreting for family members. Each is interested in a health career after high school and likes the idea of being able to help people outside their family circles.

The course — through 10 lessons — focuses on overcoming language barriers that hamper many non-English speakers during medical visits. Class lessons include the role of the interpreter, code of ethics, how to manage the flow of conversation, memory skills, positioning and types of interpreting.

Lang has spoken to the class frequently about being a culture broker and what that means in the patient-doctor-interpreter relationship.

The role of the interpreter is to be present but to step in only when language and culture become difficult to comprehend, she said.

Students learn how to perceive when there is a misunderstanding between a patient and physician and when to step in to clarify matters, Lang said.

Through role playing in class, Lang puts her students through exercises that allow them to understand the perspective of the doctor, patient and interpreter. In addition, class members learn how a patient might have objections to a medical procedure due to religious or cultural beliefs and how the interpreter needs to move both parties toward a solution.

Spanish is the most common language in addition to English, but this year’s course also featured Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. In the past, Russian, Vietnamese, French, Japanese and Arabic also have been used in the class.

Signing up

Any medical interpreter must be 18 years old in order to volunteer. This year’s class had two seniors and one junior who met the age requirement to volunteer immediately after completion of the course.

Students and adult participants are invited and encouraged to become volunteers at Columbus Regional Health and the Healthy Communities Initiative that serves the local uninsured population through the Volunteers In Medicine clinic, Hurt said. To join the program, students must be in good academic standing.

Students are recruited to participate in this initiative through Health Science and Project Lead the Way — Biomedical courses, said Jennifer Steinwedel, a health sciences teacher at Columbus East. Most students hear about the course through peers who have completed it.

“They learn what it is like to be an advocate for a patient,” Lang said. “They are very excited about the opportunity.”

At a glance

What: Bridging the Gap medical interpreter class

Who: 21 bilingual students from Columbus North, Columbus East and Seymour.

When: Five-week class met one day a week. Students took a 50-question final exam on the last day of class and must score at least 70 percent to earn a certificate of completion, which allows them to volunteer at local medical facilities.

History: Bridging the Gap is a national program that has helped train individuals in medical interpreting for more than 20 years.