• Liberty Language Services

Interpreter Spotlight: Vanessa Nino, MPA, CMI-Spanish

This is the third in a series of Liberty Language Services Blog posts highlighting the variety of careers available in the field of interpreting, and the variety of professional language specialists who work as interpreters. This interview features a practitioner who has been instrumental in setting the highest standards for the profession.

Vanessa Nino, MPA, CMI-Spanish

How long have you been working as a medical interpreter?

I started interpreting in 2001. I came to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in March 2011, and joined MedStar Washington Hospital Center in March of 2011. My current position is Manager, Interpreting and Volunteer Services.

Why did you choose this profession?

I “fell into it” 18 years ago, when the profession was still very young. I had just finished my Bachelor’s Degree in international business. I was hired by the Human Resources Department of a hospital system in Cincinnati for their diversity group, which had been asked to create an interpreting program for their tertiary hospital. They were a health system with about 10 hospitals, similar to where I now work. MedStar Washington Hospital Center is one of 10 hospitals within the MedStar Health system.

While researching and putting the proposal together, I contacted people in Portland, Oregon and Washington State; they had a training program that led to interpreting for Health and Human Services departments. I got permission to take it, flew there and took their course, and it really gave me a better grasp of what we wanted to create in Cincinnati.

I used that knowledge and information to finish my proposal. When it was accepted, I was offered the position of coordinator for the department. That’s how I became a medical interpreter.

I took my position very seriously. I found and took an Interpreting training course, Bridging the Gap, which opened my eyes to how much I still had to learn and how important a trained medical interpreter is. As they say, “Interpreters save lives in many languages!”

Eventually, I got my Master’s Degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in health and also became a trainer for Bridging the Gap.

What were some of your early mistakes?

A lot of people think that because they are bilingual or trilingual (like me) they can interpret. But I very quickly learned that there is a lot more to it than that. I met other people in the field, took more courses, and learned the rules, reasons and best practices in the field.

Do you remember your first interpreting assignment?

About 18 years ago, during my first week as an interpreter, I provided services for two patients who had suffered major trauma. In both cases, their lives completely changed because of it. That week, I learned more than I ever expected, worked longer hours than I could have imagined, and it started shaping me into the interpreter I am today, I’ll never forget it.

Are you qualified or certified?

I am a nationally Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI).

What do you think is the most important thing to be successful as an interpreter?

I am a huge proponent of continuing education. When someone completes the initial 40-hour course, that’s just the beginning. There is so much more to learn to be a true and successful interpreter. It’s not until you have on-the-job experience and continued learning that you mature and have the experience needed to take tougher assignments. I know this because I went through it myself.

Many of us have done some interpreting even before taking any courses, whether it’s with our families or others. But even after being certified I took clinical courses, all that continued learning, combined with on-the-job experience, is how you gain mastery.

Here at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, all interpreters are qualified medical interpreters.

What do you look for in an interpreting agency?

Openness to feedback and continually striving to do better and be the best.

I have high standards because I truly believe our patients deserve the best. I will do anything to ensure patients understand what their health situation is and how they can care for themselves or their loved ones.

Did MedStar develop any special guidance for interpreters due the current Coronavirus outbreak?

MedStar supported me in developing a video which was shared with agency medical interpreters. The video focused on PPE, appropriate usage, appropriate donning and doffing and conservation.

Many organizations relied on telephone and video remote interpreting when the COVID-19 caseload was high this spring, but at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we continued to provide in-person interpreters as much as possible. Technology provides great additional tools, but sometimes being there in-person is really helpful for families receiving critical news.

What would you like changed or improved in the interpreting industry?

I’d like to see more education resulting in a degree. Right now, almost all sign language interpreters in the industry have a Master’s degree, which is not true in spoken language interpreting. There are still few places where one can get a degree in interpreting. I think more degree programs would help the field be seen as a true profession.

Too often medical personnel still rely on family members to share a patient’s medical history rather than use an interpreter so the patient can speak for themselves. If we all had to have degrees to be certified medical interpreters, I think the services we provide would be valued and respected throughout the world.

What was the most memorable experience you've had during your career as an interpreter?

This COVID-19 pandemic has made me grow and mature as a person and as an interpreter. We were suddenly interpreting about something new to all of us. We also had to wear PPE as face-to-face interpreting was critical in the care of patients who, due to the pandemic, were unable to be surrounded by their loved ones. It’s been a very intense, moving and educational experience.

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