Successful Massachusetts medical interpreter training program goes to Texas

Medical Interpreter Training
Lisa Morris, director of Cross Cultural Initiatives (seated at right), and Nancy Esparza, program director for the Central MassAHEC Language Link program provided medical interpreter training in Austin, Texas, as part of a collaboration between the MassAHEC Network and East Texas AHEC.


A successful Commonwealth Medicine program that has trained thousands of medical interpreters in Massachusetts has crossed state lines to help Texas community health workers better communicate with patients.

Members of the Commonwealth Medicine (CWM) Medical Interpreter Training program and the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (MassAHEC) Network shared their expertise with the East Texas AHEC to train multi-lingual community health workers to serve as medical interpreters and establish a medical interpreter training program. The program, which is sponsored by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services in partnership with CWM’s Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR) and MassAHEC, has trained more than 3,000 Massachusetts medical interpreters—who collectively speak more than 35 languages—during the last 10 years, and is considered the primary trainer of medical interpreters in the state.

In its collaboration with East Texas AHEC, the training program provided services using its newly revised, updated curriculum. “A survey of community health workers by East Texas AHEC revealed that they thought their communities needed medical interpreters and that training in medical interpretation would help them facilitate communication with their clients, as well as develop career advancement skills,” said Linda Cragin, director of the MassAHEC Network. “East Texas AHEC felt that incorporating medical interpreter training for the predominantly Spanish-speaking community health workers would support the important role of this emerging health workforce team. Collaborating with another AHEC program to achieve this goal was also important, and our well-established training program fit their needs perfectly.”

In August, Lisa Morris, director of Cross Cultural Initiatives for CHPR’s Office of Community Programs, and Nancy Esparza, program director for the Central MassAHEC Language Link program, trained 12 Spanish-speaking community health workers in Austin, Texas, using curriculum from CWM’s Fundamentals of Medical Interpreting program. This 60-hour course is designed to train competent, bilingual interpreters to enhance the therapeutic relationship between patient and provider in a variety of ways, including translating medical terminology for non-English speaking patients and helping those patients to convey symptoms or concerns to health care providers. In addition to facilitating communication during the health care encounter, medical interpreters incorporate an awareness of and respect for cultural perspectives.

In September, Esparza and Morris, an instructor of family medicine & community health for UMass Medical School and an active medical interpreter who is fluent in three languages, returned to Austin to teach skilled interpreters how to assess, motivate, teach and evaluate future medical interpreter students using CWM’s Train the Trainer program. Ultimately, the Fundamentals of Medical Interpreting program will be used by Texas AHEC to train its interpreters.

“Our training in East Texas is hopefully just the beginning of many more opportunities to train medical interpreters and medical interpreter trainers,” Morris said. “The East Texas AHEC participants acquired a wealth of information in a short period of time, and are now strategizing about how to implement the training online statewide. We look forward to learning and collaborating with them in this endeavor.”

In 2009, CWM’s Fundamentals of Medical Interpreting program was selected by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) as a means of informing its development of national standards for medical interpreter training, which are scheduled to be released later this year. The mission of NCIHC is to promote culturally competent professional health care interpreting as a way to support equal access to health care for individuals with limited English proficiency.

About the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center Network

The Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (MassAHEC) Network is a statewide organization that consists of six regional offices. Each office is hosted by a local nonprofit agency or the city health department with local advisory boards who provide guidance and input and assure the office’s responsiveness to local health care workforce needs. MassAHEC Network addresses the concern of health disparities in the commonwealth by focusing on three areas of workforce development: fostering a culturally competent, skilled health care workforce; ensuring that all residents of the commonwealth have access to quality health care delivered by a skilled health care workforce; and ensuring that the diversity of the health care workforce reflects the diversity of the population it serves. The MassAHEC Network is part of Commonwealth Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Research. For more information, visit

About the Center for Health Policy and Research

UMass Medical School’s Center for Health Policy and Research (CHPR) is dedicated to research, evaluation and education initiatives that advance public health policy and outcomes worldwide. CHPR’s distinctive approach to its public service endeavors include cultivating data for translational science; researching and creating policy on public health services; implementing and delivering those services; supporting policy and program development for human service agencies and nonprofits; working with and for government health care agencies; and providing services for managed care organizations. For more information, visit

About Commonwealth Medicine

Commonwealth Medicine (CWM) is the public, nonprofit health care consulting and service organization founded by UMass Medical School. Government agencies, nonprofits and managed care organizations benefit from CWM’s expertise in clinical service delivery, health care financing strategies, policy management and quality improvement. CWM programs have helped Massachusetts—and many other state, international and local health care agencies—to increase the value of health care expenditures while improving access and delivery of care to at-risk and uninsured populations. Commonwealth Medicine programs were developed, in part, as a way for UMMS faculty and staff to have a direct and profound impact on the communities of Massachusetts, and now provide critical opportunities for UMMS faculty and students to serve the community. For more information, visit


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