Student Health Action Coalition’s Mandarin Interpreting Service Helps Meet Growing Need
School of Medicine
The best attributes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) can be found in the genesis of its Mandarin interpreting service. SHAC, the longest running student-led free clinic in the country, allows its student leaders to creatively mobilize the resources needed to make sure the patients they see get the care they deserve. Such is the story of Mandarin interpreting at SHAC. Need identified, strategy conceived and executed, need met.
It started in 2016, when the clinic’s co-directors noticed an increase in Mandarin speaking patients. A former clinical co-director, Wen Lin, was fluent in Mandarin. He translated for a few patients during visits to SHAC. These patients told a few friends. And suddenly the number of Mandarin speakers seeking care at SHAC was growing dramatically.
Lin graduated and moved on, but the patients kept coming. Evans Lodge and Caroline Fryar, who served as SHAC’s clinical co-directors in 2017, knew they had to do something.
“We knew there was clearly a need, lots of families that needed Mandarin interpreting services,” said Lodge. “If we don’t strive to meet that need these families will stop coming. But if we want to meet that need, then we have to figure out how to have a reliable set of interpreters here at SHAC all of the time.”
Lodge and Fryar leaned on another pillar of SHAC: its interdisciplinary approach to caring for patients.
“At its best, SHAC represents almost every school on campus working together,” Lodge said. “We saw the establishment of a Mandarin interpreting program as an opportunity to reach out to students who had not been traditionally involved in SHAC.”
SHAC’s leaders contacted Carolina’s Department of Asian Studies and asked if there were any students who would be interested in providing interpreting services at the clinic. The response was swift. Within a week, more than 30 students had expressed their willingness to get involved and desire to learn more.
Jimmy Chin, a senior majoring in Asian studies and economics, was one of the students who answered the call.
“I don’t necessarily have an interest in medicine, but I thought this was a cool idea, an opportunity to serve the community and a chance to practice my Chinese,” Chin said.
Jessica Blanks, a senior studying biology and Asian studies, said she’s hoping to pursue a masters in public health after graduation and ultimately go to medical school.
“I was really inspired by the mission of SHAC and the commitment to providing care for all people and fighting health care inequality,” Blanks said.
Medical student Kyle Riker leads the Spanish interpreting team at SHAC. Since medical interpreting requires precise language usage, all interpreters are required to pass a competency exam. Blanks and Chin set out to translate the materials into Mandarin and were soon named the leaders of the new group of interpreters. Riker said once the materials were translated and the interested students completed their assessments, they were ready to go.
“It was surprisingly easy because there were so many students who were interested,” Riker said. “As soon as the assessment materials were up and running, we had students taking and passing the exam and then in the clinic helping patients.”
Now, each week at SHAC’s Wednesday medical clinic, Blanks and Chin, along with Jacky Zheng and Alyssa Guo, manage a team of four or five translators. When they are needed, they follow the patient throughout their clinic visit.
For students like Blanks and many of the interpreters, undergraduates with an interest in medicine, it’s an invaluable experience.
Read more on the School of Medicine website.
January 23, 2023