Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 12, pp 1589–1595

Revolutionizing Volunteer Interpreter Services: An Evaluation of an Innovative Medical Interpreter Education Program

  • Oswaldo Hasbún Avalos
  • Kaylin Pennington
  • Lars Osterberg
Original Research

DOI: 10.1007/s11606-013-2502-5

Cite this article as:
Hasbún Avalos, O., Pennington, K. & Osterberg, L. J GEN INTERN MED (2013) 28: 1589. doi:10.1007/s11606-013-2502-5



In our ever-increasingly multicultural, multilingual society, medical interpreters serve an important role in the provision of care. Though it is known that using untrained interpreters leads to decreased quality of care for limited English proficiency patients, because of a short supply of professionals and a lack of formalized, feasible education programs for volunteers, community health centers and internal medicine practices continue to rely on untrained interpreters.


To develop and formally evaluate a novel medical interpreter education program that encompasses major tenets of interpretation, tailored to the needs of volunteer medical interpreters.


One-armed, quasi-experimental retro-pre–post study using survey ratings and feedback correlated by assessment scores to determine educational intervention effects.


Thirty-eight students; 24 Spanish, nine Mandarin, and five Vietnamese. The majority had prior interpreting experience but no formal medical interpreter training.


Students completed retrospective pre-test and post-test surveys measuring confidence in and perceived knowledge of key skills of interpretation. Primary outcome measures were a 10-point Likert scale for survey questions of knowledge, skills, and confidence, written and oral assessments of interpreter skills, and qualitative evidence of newfound knowledge in written reflections.


Analyses showed a statistically significant (P <0.001) change of about two points in mean self-ratings on knowledge, skills, and confidence, with large effect sizes (d > 0.8). The second half of the program was also quantitatively and qualitatively shown to be a vital learning experience, resulting in 18 % more students passing the oral assessments; a 19 % increase in mean scores for written assessments; and a newfound understanding of interpreter roles and ways to navigate them.


This innovative program was successful in increasing volunteer interpreters’ skills and knowledge of interpretation, as well as confidence in own abilities. Additionally, the program effectively taught how to navigate the roles of the interpreter to maintain clear communication.


interpretercommunity healthminority healthquality improvementunderserved populations

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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Oswaldo Hasbún Avalos
    • 1
  • Kaylin Pennington
    • 1
  • Lars Osterberg
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Stanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  3. 3.VA Palo Alto Health Care SystemPalo AltoUSA