The value of a solid education in interpretation theory and technique is undeniable. At the same time, we all recognize that there are certain nuances that can only be learned by doing. Internships play a key role in this sort of experiential learning.

However, in the healthcare setting, an interpreting internship is difficult to come by for several reasons:

  • Lack of human and financial resources
  • Lack of will due to underestimation or misunderstanding of the key role interpreters play in medical encounters
  • Privacy laws that require additional intern training & compliance
  • Patient safety risks
  • Not to mention what to do when internship candidates reside in places as disparate as Egypt and Brazil!

In Toronto, Canada, Glendon College confronted these challenges by implementing a Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum (VHIP) that focuses on:

  • The innovative use of new delivery technologies
  • Best practices for remote interpreting
  • Assignment preparation
  • Sight translation
  • Intervention/mediation techniques
  • Terminology building
  • Reflective practice (self-feedback)

sanitario-300x300The VHIP curriculum is built on four simulated full-length role plays followed by a reflective practice and peer feedback period and then the immediate repetition of the scenario, allowing the interpreter to immediately apply insights gained. The students also have the opportunity to participate in a full-length, medically appropriate simultaneous session (such as a support group or patient education seminar) in which they interpret in the simultaneous mode from virtual booths.

Acting on a desire to make the experience even more realistic and to build bridges between interpreters and the providers we work for and with, this year we are piloting a VHIP Live! session for each practicum participant. In this special session, a healthcare professional (rather than a fellow student) plays the role of the provider based on a pre-established scenario. On one hand, this heightens the stakes for the interpreter, while it also provides the healthcare professional with a better understanding of the interpreter’s role and training within cross-cultural contexts. Both parties come to understand the value of a pre-session—a brief meeting before the encounter—and a debriefing.

On the technology front, this year’s iteration continues to push the envelope. In addition to continuing to train on the forward-thinking simultaneous-capable teleconferencing system ZipDX, we are incorporating another rising star in the remote simultaneous world known for its intuitive, pared down interpreter interface: VoiceBoxer.

Though currently the opportunities for in-hospital internships are limited, one day these internships will be required of interpreters just as they currently are for physicians, social workers and other members of the healthcare team. Meanwhile, a remote simulated internship provides its own unique advantages, stretching students and preparing them for the growing trend towards remote delivery of interpreting services in both the consecutive and simultaneous mode.

Laura launched the Virtual Healthcare Interpreting Practicum in coordination with Katharine Allen, co-president of InterpretAmerica and Professor of Healthcare Interpreting at Glendon College. The result is a promising internship model that circumvents many current obstacles and provides participants with a unique, authentic experience in the healthcare setting.

2 thoughts on “The VHIP: Beyond the Classroom Before the Hospital

  1. Hi Laura, I loved reading about the VHIP! There’s definitely a gap in training with respect to more practical experiences. I can say from my experience on the Language Services side, there are–as you correctly point out–so many barriers to getting trainees in for practical experience, even if that means just shadowing an interpreter. There are so many great things going on here, but I especially love how you’re now incorporating healthcare professionals. It’s a win-win. Thanks for this good work–I know it can’t be easy, but it’s definitely a big step in the right direction. In the end, the patients win. I’m excited to see how it will grow!


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