While developing training and certification standards for translators and interpreters working in the health-care industry, the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care turned to a University of Arizona program.
The UA translation and interpretation program, or T&I, served as a model for the national organization, NCIHC, which reviewed programs at nine other institutions and companies in states that include California, Minnesota and Massachusetts.
It is a strong nod to the UA program, one only established about five years ago.
"The UA program is already one of the gold standards in the U.S.," said Jaime Fatás-Cabeza, who directs the UA program.
Housed in the UA's department of Spanish and Portuguese, the program now supports nearly 170 students majoring or minoring in the program. It is one of few programs in the nation offering an avenue toward actual degree attainment.
Fatás-Cabeza, also an associate with the National Center for Interpretation, Testing, Research and Policy and a federally certified interpreter, said one of the key priorities in the program is to ensure that students have practical training and experience before graduating.
"The program, while academic, has a very imminent and practical focus," Fatás-Cabeza said.
He noted that in the T&I program at the UA, students have the opportunity to complete an internship or practicum either on or off campus in addition to their studies. Over the years, students have provided translation and interpretation services to court systems, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, newspapers and also several UA colleges and departments.
In its final report released earlier this year, the NCIHC committee emphasized the importance of having established standards for a swiftly growing profession.
After an extensive review of curricular materials, the committee noted that the UA program and nine others chosen for review were "built on the best knowledge and expert opinion available to date about what every interpreter needs to know and be able to do and the most effective instructional methods for helping interpreter candidates master these knowledge and skill areas."
Data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the work for translators and interpreters is expected to grow much faster than the average type of job in the U.S., at least through 2018.
The agency reports that the demand is driven not only by shifting demographics, but also the increasing demand for cross-cultural communication.
Erin J. Vinton completed a semester-long internship at Tucson Medical Center, or TMC, while studying in the program. Though she received academic credit for the internship at the time, the program has since solidified a stronger partnership with TMC, which now offers pay to students.
Vinton, who graduated in 2009 and now serves as one of the program's adjunct faculty members, said the training was rigorous, and necessarily so.
"The interesting thing about medical interpreting that our students end up becoming aware of is that it is very different from legal interpreting," said Vinton, who also volunteered with Southern Arizona Legal Aid.
Vinton shadowed staff interpreters as they interpreted for nurses and physicians and translated documents and informational material provided to patients.
"You have a different role than in judicial interpreting. That was something I experienced and had to become aware of," Vinton said. "You are employees of the hospital, and part of the hospital's message is that it provides the best care possible. That might mean holding a little girl's hand while you are interpreting for her."
The internship experience was very valuable for that reason, she said, also noting that it helped her to understand that medical interpreters are not in an advocacy role for either the physician or patient, but are in a more balanced mediating position.
"It was fun sometimes and also hard," Vinton said. "But it was a really great experience."