Navigating Language Barriers at Health Center #6
Coming into my service role of patient advocate at Health Center #6, I felt prepared to learn and grow within an expanding healthcare landscape in the city of Philadelphia. In my two months here, I’ve been able to greatly expand my knowledge of urban public health and the wide variety of necessary services that supplement direct healthcare. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is how to navigate language barriers with patients in a meaningful way.
At HC 6, I see non-native English speakers come in every single day. Healthcare providers and systems are responsible for ensuring quality care to patients, regardless of the language. Interpreters have now become critical to the healthcare landscape, and rightfully so. Language is undoubtedly critical in all aspects of life, especially in healthcare. The ability to freely and clearly express one’s medical concerns is an important means of self advocacy. Yet, due to language barriers, many conversations can become muddled and difficult for both conversationalists.
Regularly using interpreters both in person and over the phone has given me a greater understanding of the nuances of having a language barrier with patients. Interpreters provide a bridge to understanding the patients we serve both from a healthcare standpoint and a personal standpoint. Often, a patient’s need for medication isn’t solely transactional, but is also interconnected with travel and their personal experiences and hardships.
Being a patient advocate at Health Center #6 has given me a greater appreciation for healthcare infrastructure, interpreters and support staff, and definitely Google translate. My service has shown me that proper healthcare hinges on communication. The ability for non-native English speakers to share their stories with me through interpreters has shown the progress that the healthcare system has made towards achieving equality. My experiences have also taught me that the need to learn other languages and further develop communication systems is as urgent as ever. Through this new appreciation for language as a determinant of health, I’ve been working on expanding my own communication skills through learning Spanish to better serve the HC6 community. I hope to carry this open-mindedness and appreciation for social determinants of health with me as I continue to grow and serve in a more direct role within the healthcare system.