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Tucked away at the top of South Brisbane’s Duncombe Building sits a team of 10 health interpreters and interpreter coordinators who assist patients from non-English-speaking backgrounds throughout their healthcare journeys.
Language Services Manager Ling Ling Holloway said they interpret far more than words, due to significant cultural differences and varying levels of health literacy.
“There is no blanket solution, and it is always case-by-case, but like every other patient, each one comes to hospital seeking quality treatment for their own body,” Ling Ling said.
Together with external agency interpreters, the team managed almost 15,500 requests covering 111 different languages last year, plus sign language for hearing-impaired patients.
Mandarin and Vietnamese are the most in-demand languages, followed by Somali, Cantonese, Persian, and Arabic languages.
“The explanation from our clinicians must be very clear and the patient needs to understand what is happening and be able to explain their own symptoms and wishes — it’s all about safety and accuracy.”
Interpreters may at times have to explain nuances around the patient’s hesitations that could stem from experiences prior to coming to Australia, or simply ask clinicians to phrase things in a different way to ensure clarity.
“When you have patients from refugee backgrounds for example, they may have had very poor experiences around authority figures so they may be incredibly suspicious and fearful.
“They know people are trying to care for them, but they are so used to not being able to trust people.
“It could take many years to break down those fears, so as interpreters we have to be very patient and try to help them understand that we are only here to help them. We genuinely care for them and have their best interests at heart.”
Two of the team’s interpreters arrived in Australia in the 1970s as refugees themselves, and now go home each day knowing they have helped others who may be in a similar situation.
“It is a good feeling that you have done your little bit, and your little bit helps the bigger picture of Mater.”
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