A span of a few hours can be a roller coaster of emotion for clinicians and support staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, including the team I work for—Interpreter Services.
As a medical interpreter who speaks Catalan, Spanish and English, I could find myself in a patient’s room singing a birthday song of “Feliz Cumpleaños” one minute, only to transition to another room where I relay the words to a family that their child’s cancer has relapsed.
I was born in Badalona, Spain—a suburb of Barcelona—and grew up speaking Catalan, a language spoken by nearly 10 million people in parts of Spain and southern France. Catalan shares the same Latin background of French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. I’ve only used it once in all my time at St. Jude.
A family happened to be from a neighborhood really close to where I was raised. I started talking to them in Catalan, and they were pleasantly surprised.
Many St. Jude patients and families speak Spanish, so I start my workday early, stopping by clinics to see which patients need interpreters. Days can be busy as we go back and forth between providers in all areas of the hospital who need our services.
Our team assists patients and caregivers who have limited proficiency in spoken English as well as providers who are not certified as bilingual or interpreters.
We are with families at every single encounter and spend a lot of time with them. It’s nice to meet and work with families on such a detailed level.
When I am interpreting, I do so in segments to ensure that my communication to families and staff members is clear and accurate.
There are conversations when I switch back and forth quickly. Being bilingual is not necessarily enough to be an interpreter. My parents are from the south of Spain and speak Spanish, but I grew up in a school system where we used both Spanish and Catalan, which has been helpful as an interpreter when I’m transitioning between English and Spanish.
I moved to the United States in 2003 with my wife, Amanda, a Memphis native who was living in Barcelona when we met. I took English courses at the University of Memphis to improve my English. In Spain, I worked as a photographer for 16 years, so I worked on my conversational English by working in a Memphis photo lab.
My wife, a St. Jude employee, encouraged me to volunteer at the hospital as a medical interpreter in 2004. With the help of St. Jude, I completed my certification as an interpreter and was hired officially in 2006 as one of the first full-time medical interpreters at the hospital.
I’m proud to be a part of St. Jude. I enjoy working with families, who appreciate the time we spend with them, and it’s great to work in an environment with so many talented people from around the world.
Guillermo Umbria is a medical interpreter in Interpreter Services at St. Jude.
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