Little did I know what I was signing up for when fellow interpreter Megumi called out volunteers to help plan a conference for Interpreter Services at Michigan Medicine to celebrate our 20th anniversary in April 2018. Without any prior experience in planning or even attending any professional conferences, I became part of the conference planning committee, which took me by surprise. Thank you to Michelle who graciously made the decision to send us to two healthcare interpreter conferences: IMIA in Houston, TX and NCIHC in Portland, ME. Six of our colleagues went to Houston and two colleagues went to Portland.
Upon our arrival at the venue in Houston, we checked out the setup of the conference rooms, took pictures, and paid detailed attention to all the arrangements. We found ourselves not only there to sharpen our professional skills and networking, but also there with a mission in mind–what do and not to do in planning our own conference. We met interpreters, administrators, and medical providers from all over the world. It was really inspiring to see many speakers that started out as interpreters and continued to pursue advanced education or became trainers or owners of language service agencies.
There were 52 one-hour sessions over the two and a half day conference and we tried to break up to go to 3-4 sessions individually everyday so we can cover all the topics. Since this year’s theme for IMIA was Interpreter, Providers and Regulators: A Partnership for Patient Safety, and most of the sessions revolved around how the triad can work together to ensure patient safety. I was particularly interested in the subject about the interpreter’s mental health and self-care in order to optimize patient safety. I learned how vicarious trauma (secondary victimization or toxic residue from trauma) can affect our mental health and our performance over time if left unaddressed. As interpreters, we hear, we repeat and we witness many traumas at work. It’s something affecting all of us at different levels and may or may not manifest right away. Many interpreters reacted very emotionally during these sessions. I truly felt how vicarious trauma could impact us once being triggered. The speakers offered some strategies we can take, such as recognizing the signs of shifting emotions or physiological changes, being able to verbalize how you feel with peers and even excusing yourself if necessary etc.
Last but not least, I feel very proud of being a member of the Michigan Medicine family after sitting through these sessions. Many ideas and recommendations have already been adopted and implemented here at Michigan Medicine. We’re continuously being educated and reinforced about patient safety, code of ethics, compliance, medical knowledge access through Mlearning, workshops, in-services, just to name a few. The strong leadership and immense support we have is beyond comparison. I hope by hosting our own annual conference, we can showcase what we’ve achieved in the past 20 years and how we will continue to strive to offer the best language service to our LEP patients.