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Posted: April 01, 2004



The School of Public Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center launched a new program training and educating leaders in the field of medical interpreting.

Healthcare providers in Tarrant County are struggling to provide effective services to the growing Latino Spanish-speaking community, but find that they often lack the resources. In response to this issue, the School of Public Health is launching a new M.P.H. concentration. Called Health Interpreting and Health Applied Linguistics, or HIHAL, the new concentration is "a step in the right direction for providing truly adequate and effective language services in healthcare settings," according to Holly E. Jacobson, PhD, who is directing the new concentration.

The new master’s level academic program will advance the fields of health communication and medical interpreting, facilitate health care access, and decrease health disparities.

The population of Tarrant County grew by 23% between 1990 and 2000, partly driven by the rapid growth of the Spanish-speaking community. Forty percent of the Latino population in the area are recent immigrants hailing from more than 20 countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Cuba, and Colombia. Of these, 78% are predominately Spanish speaking.

The HIHAL concentration is the only program in the United States to prepare students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and interests to assume positions as professional health interpreters, linguistic researchers and leaders in the field of health applied linguistics.

UNTHSC is one of ten health organizations in the country selected to address the growing issue of language barriers in health care as part of Hablamos Juntos: Improving Patient-Provider Communication for Latinos, an initiative of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The RWJF-funded project at UNTHSC SPH is titled Háblenos de su salud, and is implementing a number of new interventions to improve communication between English-speaking healthcare professionals and Spanish-speaking clients. The HIHAL concentration is one of these initiatives.

According to Dr. Jacobson, the status of medical interpreting in the U.S. today is dismal: research clearly indicates that medical interpreters are undertrained and overworked. They lack knowledge of the crucial aspects of the interaction that occurs between doctors and patients of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

"Most medical interpreting programs that currently exist provide 40 hours or less of very basic classroom training, which isn't nearly enough for preparing competent interpreters," says Dr. Jacobson. The use of interpreters without adequate training has a direct, negative impact on patient care.

Students going through the HIHAL program are expected to complete 200 hours of interpreting hours at collaborating healthcare provider sites, including clinics of Planned Parenthood of North Texas, Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County, the American Cancer Society, Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and Osteopathic Health Systems of Texas, and JPS Health Network.

The mission of HIHAL is to prepare professionals who will serve at the national level to promote rigorous, science-based standards for linguistic competence in health settings. HIHAL students will explore the interrelationship between language and health, and will delve into the complex relationship that exists between language and disease.

They will develop competencies in conducting language research in health settings, and will receive extensive training as health interpreters, and, in some cases, as health writers and translators. Due to the support of collaborating healthcare providers in Tarrant County, the program provides a rich environment for interpreter training and research, and opportunities for thesis topics that are not readily available in other linguistics programs. Currently, the languages covered in the program are limited to English and Spanish.

The program, which is expected to attract students from across the country, is unique in several aspects, including: the backing of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Hablamos Juntos national program; the multidisciplinary focus of the curriculum that includes both public health and specialized linguistic/interpreting courses; its physical location in an accredited school of public health; and the collaborative partnership with diverse Hispanic-serving community agencies providing a variety of health care services.

The first cohort of HIHAL students will begin coursework in summer or fall 2004. Admissions materials are currently being accepted. Scholarships are available for a limited number of qualified applicants. For information visit: http://www.hsc.unt.edu/education/sph/social.cfm or contact:

Holly E. Jacobson, PhD HIHAL Applications UNTHSC School of Public Health Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, EAD-711 3500 Camp Bowie Blvd. Fort Worth, Texas 76107 817-735-2365 hablenos@hsc.unt.edu


If you are with the media and need additional information or would like to arrange an interview,
please contact Jeff Carlton, Director of Media Relations, at 817-735-7630.


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