Yamilka Velazquez, Dispatcher – Interpreter Services, UMass Memorial Medical Center
As a child, Yamilka Velazquez accompanied her mother and grandmother to the doctor to serve as an informal interpreter. "We came from Puerto Rico, and I learned English as a second language," she said. When professional interpreters were present at the appointments, Yamilka was fascinated by their work. "I loved how they translated word-for-word and expressed exactly how the patient felt," she said.
Since 2002, Yamilka has served as a dispatcher for Interpreter Services at UMass Memorial Medical Center. "The need has grown dramatically," Yamilka said. "Worcester is known for its diversity." She and her colleagues work across the three Medical Center campuses to connect interpreters with patients in person—as well as over the phone and by videoconference—to help them communicate with doctors, nurses, social workers, and case managers for every unit of the hospital.
"Every day is different," Yamilka said. "And every day we make a difference in patient outcomes by getting the right provider there on time." Yamilka says the main languages requested are Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Albanian, Nepali, and American Sign Language (ASL), "but we deal with 137+ languages throughout the year. It's important for patients to portray their needs and their wants in their own language."
Many interpreters work with patients over an extended period of time, becoming like family. "Some patients don’t have family here and are going through a serious illness alone," Yamilka said. "We’re helping to interpret, but we’re also there for emotional support. Patients get attached to our interpreters." And interpreters get attached to patients.
Yamilka recalls one cancer patient from Ecuador who was not expected to survive. But before she returned to her homeland, the staff took up a collection for her to do something fun with her children. "She brought everyone here flowers and we wanted to do something nice for her," Yamilka said. She supports her fellow caregivers in dealing with challenging interpretations, such as communicating end-of-life decision making. "We all work together," Yamilka says. "Most gratifying for me is looking at a full schedule and knowing our interpreters are out there, helping patients get the care they need."
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