Archived CMA Today - Spotlight
Speaking from the heart
Translator connects patients with care
By Cathy Cassata
Joaquin Varo, CMA (AAMA), left Mexico with his family and arrived in Newport, Ore., at the age of 14. He instantly developed an interest in health care, particularly improving the quality of care for Hispanics. “I just wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it,” he says. So after graduating from high school, Varo worked as a Hispanic program coordinator for the Oregon Area Health Education Center, an agency that aims to improve the education, training, and distribution of health care professionals in Oregon. “They had a program that encouraged Hispanics to go into health care, and one of my jobs was to promote the program, which included recognizing the medical assisting field,” he states. “I thought, ‘hey, this is the career I should get into.’”
Following this realization, Varo enrolled in the medical assisting program at Portland Community College. “But when I was finishing my clinical externship, I realized that if I worked in clinical services, I wasn’t going to be able to optimize my knowledge in reaching out to Hispanic people because a lot of Hispanics unfortunately don’t go to see the doctor often,” he explains. So Varo became involved in El Centro de Ayuda, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide support and educational services to high-risk, low-income families. Its programs include medical interpretation, an after school club for children, fresh food distributions, referral and assistance programs, and an array of classes in adult literacy, nutrition, health, and childbirth. “It was the best opportunity to really become involved in my community,” Varo says. “I first became a volunteer, then a board member, then a vice chairman of the board, and then the program coordinator/translator position became available, and I got it,” he notes. The position seemed tailor-made for Varo’s passion. “I can really be there with Hispanic patients throughout the whole journey from going to the ER, doing follow-up, making sure they get all their medications and are taking them correctly, and that they understand what their diagnoses and prognoses are,” he says.
Variety fills Varo’s workdays, but he spends much of his time translating. The El Centro de Ayuda has a relationship with the local hospital, so if a patient needs a translator, the hospital immediately calls the center. “We have a 24/7 service with the hospital so if we get paged, we go,” says Varo. He’s on call four days a week, and takes pride in each page, no matter the hour.
According to Medical Care Research and Review, multiple studies document that more interpreter errors occur with untrained ad hoc interpreters, compromising quality of care for patients with limited English proficiency. “It’s so rewarding to be able to help prevent a lot of these medical errors and a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering.”
Varo’s medical assisting training grounds him for each workday. “We have a rather complicated medical system in the U.S. and so it is very difficult for people to navigate,” he states. “Having my background in medical assisting is of great help to the quality care of people. It helps me to help them make sure they understand clinical issues, as well as administrative information,” he says. “I know the system and I’m able to provide a link of communication between the patients and their providers.” Translation: One caring and committed CMA (AAMA) can make a world of difference.