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Knoxville nonprofit bridges language divide in Latino community

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Friday, October 6, 2023   

For the growing population of Latinos in Knoxville, having a medical interpreter can make a world of difference.

The nonprofit Centro Hispano de East Tennessee is bridging a language gap and advocating for its patients. President and CEO Claudia Caballero said they noticed a shortage of medical interpreters regionwide. So, in collaboration with Direct Relief, the group launched a medical interpreter pilot program.

Caballero explained the eight-month curriculum provides employment opportunities for marginalized documented or undocumented high school students and beyond, while providing a critical service.

"It is a space where we teach young people who are already bilingual and sometimes trilingual, they'll speak indigenous languages as well, the medical terminology and the ethics needed to become an interpreter," she said. "Additional to those eight months of classes, they did 100 hours of practicum in our Community Health Care System."

Students graduate from the program with a medical interpreter certificate. Caballero said currently, seven of the 10 graduates are working full time as medical interpreters. Three have medical careers and work part time as medical interpreters.

Caballero said one patient who is diabetic used to need her daughter to translate at medical appointments, which meant taking her out of school to help. Now, that patient has access to a regular medical interpreter at appointments and her daughter can stay in class.

"So, she stopped by our organization one day and met one of our medical interpreters and had a very first session with a medical interpreter in the room -- and she didn't even know that was something that she could ask for," she said. "And she was so moved by being able to go with someone that she knew had her back, and that could ask the questions she needed. "

Caballero said Centro Hispano de East Tennessee serves as a cultural center and gathering place for Latinos in the region. In addition to this pilot program, it also offers workforce development, youth and family engagement services, community resources, and help for small businesses.


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