Interpreter Kenett Melgar Receives Emerging Leader National Award

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Every year, the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy of the George Washington University School of Public Health Services receives nominations of Emerging Leaders from community health care facilities and primary care associations across the nation. This year, 19 of the Emerging Leaders candidates were nominated based on their progressive thinking, ability to implement re-imagined practices within their health care facilities, and community involvement that championed the ideals and visions of Drs. Geiger and Gibson.  On the 50th Anniversary of the Geiger Gibson Program, 8 winners received  the 2015 Emerging Leaders award in Washington, DC. Awards were given at the annual National Association of Community Health Centers on March 31, 2015.

Kenett Melgar, interpreting team leader at Blue Ridge Community Health Services (a non profit health care clinic and regional service provider in Western North Carolina), was one of 8 recipients of the Emerging Leader award. We got a chance to speak to Kenett to find out more about his role at BRCHS, and what led him to choose interpreting as a career:

 Telelanguage: First of all, congratulations on winning the Emerging Leaders award! What influenced you to choose interpreting as a career, and which languages do you interpret?

Kenett Melgar: Thank you, it was a great honor and privilege being nominated and awarded such a recognition. Especially considering how much Dr. Geiger and Gibson have done in the field of public health.  What motivated me to become an interpreter? When I was growing up I saw firsthand the difficulties that my parents and relatives faced when seeking health care, especially when it came to effectively communicating.  Like many others in my situation I started interpreting for my parents as a child at their doctors visits, lawyers consults and other appointments they had.  It was at this time that I became aware first hand at the limitations that lay interpreter face.  I was only 11 so I did not know many of the legal and medical terms; needless to say my interpreting at the time left much to be desired.  The experience did however spark a desire in me to be as fluent as I could be in both languages.  My goal was to say the exact same thing in both languages using, as much as possible, the exact words in the opposite language. I did not want to paraphrase or reword the sentence using synonyms, I wanted both parties to feel like they were actually hearing each other speak and not listening to an interpreter.  It was not until after I was certified as a medical interpreter and had been out in the field for a while that I became somewhat happy with my proficiency as an interpreter. I’m still learning however, that’s the beauty of langue its always changing, evolving there is always something new to learn.  I currently only interpret between English and Spanish.

Telelanguage:  Please tell us a bit about your role as the interpreting team leader at Blue Ridge Community Health Services:

Kenett Melgar: I started working at Blue Ridge Community Health Services (BRCHS) 11 going on 12 years ago. I started as the only dedicated interpreter for the clinic at that time.  Since then we have gone from one interpreter to five dedicated interpreters and three prn interpreters.  In those 12 years BRCHS has grown as well, we now have 9 different locations and offer a variety of services to the community; we have Family Practice, Dentistry, Behavioral Health, Pharmacy, School Health, Community Outreach & Education.  My job is to coordinate the interpreting services for all of these sites. Predominantly our patients speak either English or Spanish, but we also have patients who speak: Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Tagalong and American Sign Language. Our organization is in the process of growing and as we acquire new sites my job is to ensure that they have proper linguistics support, to that end I also coordinate our video interpreting. This involves making sure that we are HIPPA compliant and that the logistics of using a video interpreter are worked out.  I also coordinate our in-house interpreter certification program.  This is a program I started that is aimed as a annual refresher for our interpreters.  The program goes over proper interpreting protocol, ethics and vocabulary.  We try to update the program annually to better fit our growing organization and our constantly changing population demographics. All of our interpreters have either gone through the certification program at our local Area Health Education Center called MAHEC, or through the Community Interpreter program at our local community college. Our in-house program is simply meant to add to that already extensive training that our interpreters have, it is a tailored program specific to our organizational needs.  

Telelanguage: When it comes to health care, interpreters are a vital asset to patients that are limited or non-English speaking. How does your non-profit organization help when it comes to families that are unable to afford an interpreter?

Kenett Melgar: I am really fortunate that I work at a place that really cares about the community and the people it serves.  Currently our organization does not charge an additional fee for the interpreting services it provides.  We realize that clear communication between patient and provider is essential to delivering proper health care. We also strive to be in compliance with Title IV which requires recipients of federal financial assistance provide meaningful access to their LEP clients.  As an organization, BRCHS has served as an advocate for interpreting services in our community, we have lobbied and worked with other community organizations to see the benefit and cost-effectiveness of using interpreters; if fact we are currently looking into creative ways to help local specialist offices to offer interpreting services for their patients.


Telelanguage: Do you see a future where live interpreters in any capacity (telephonic, video, or face to face) may be eliminated by machine translations such as Google Translate?

Kenett Melgar:  You know there might come a day when Google Translate will become the C-3PO of our world (sorry for the SW reference J) but I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s been my experience that Google Translate excels at translating one word at a time, but it runs into trouble when it has to translate whole documents at one time. Many times its algorithms are not sophisticated enough to determine how or which of the many uses a word can have, to use in its translation.  And when you are dealing with subject matter which has the potential for great repercussions based on the exact wording of an interpretation or translation, such as law or medicine, I think we will always want a human element to be involved in the process even if it’s just to review and approve the interpretation/translation.

 Telelanguage: Best advice for someone potentially looking into becoming a certified medical interpreter as a future career?

Kenett Melgar: Make sure you are passionate about it.  Like most professionals, I have found that the best interpreters are those who have a burning desire to master their craft.  Seek ways to keep improving your technique, to increase your vocabulary and to keep up to date with the culture itself.  And don’t lose sight of the fact that interpreting is more than just a job, your work will have a great impact on people’s life at a time when they may feel most vulnerable.

Interpreters are an invaluable asset to the medical industry, and non-profit organizations like BRCHS provides the necessary language access so desperately needed in communities where many rely on interpreters for communication.

If you’re in need of a certified medical interpreter to accompany you to your next appointment, or if you would like assistance telephonically, let Telelanguage speak for you. We have over 4,000 interpreters ready to help you communicate in 300+ languages, and are available 24/7/365. Connect to a live interpreter in just seconds at: 1-800-983-5352.


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