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Jamie Kerr helping nurse practitioners work effectively with medical interpreters

Doctor of Nursing Practice alum improving health care for patients facing a language barrier

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

June 14, 2019
  Jamie Kerr, DNP
  Jamie Kerr, DNP

Seeing an opportunity to improve quality of care during her clinical residency at Worcester’s Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, where many seeking care speak little or no English, newly minted family nurse practitioner Jamie Kerr, DNP, created a training session for nurse practitioners to learn how to work more effectively with medical interpreters as part of the health care delivery team.

Trained medical interpreters have become vital members of health care teams, helping to overcome language barriers and bridge cultural differences between health care providers and patients. Dr. Kerr, who just earned her degree from the Graduate School of Nursing, was surprised to see that, even when trained interpreters were present, clinicians and patients often have difficulties understanding each other.

“Patients with limited English proficiency are at risk of health care disparities because they need to rely on accurate communication between a medical professional and an interpreter,” said Kerr. “I’ve seen many interactions with ineffective communications between the provider, the interpreter and the patient.”

With enthusiastic support from GSN faculty and medical interpreting expert, advocate and instructor Lisa Morris, MS, instructor in family medicine and community health, Kerr created a two-hour learning session to teach Doctor of Nursing Practice students how to work more effectively with medical interpreters.

Kerr completed the project as a member of the inaugural cohort of GSN students who participated in the Central Massachusetts Advanced Nursing Education Academic-Practice Partnership (CMAAPP). Funded by a grant from the U. S. Health Resources and Services Administration(ANE D09HP29971) to better prepare nurse practitioner students to practice with rural and underserved populations, the Graduate School of Nursing establishedtwo-year clinical residencies for Doctor of Nursing Practice students at three primary care sites, including Heywood Hospital in Gardner and Reliant Health Care in Worcester, in addition to the EMK Community Health Center, where Kerr completed her residency. She was one of six grant participants who completed their required DNP scholarly projects at CMAAPP clinical sites.

“Jamie’s interpreter project highlights our grant goals from beginning to end,” said Karen Dick, PhD, associate professor of nursing and grant principal investigator.

The session Kerr and Morris piloted began with Morris giving a brief presentation on the basics of medical interpreting. The students then watched a video that displayed an ineffective interaction, in which a clinician recruited a Spanish-speaking staff member not trained as a medical interpreter to step into the role. The class discussed the encounter, then viewed a second video depicting a successful version of the interaction.

 “It’s always been a vision of mine to help providers work effectively with medical interpreters,” said Morris. As director of cross-cultural initiatives in collaboration with the Massachusetts Area Health Area Education Centers run by Commonwealth Medicine at UMass Medical School, she oversees the MassAHEC workforce development medical interpreter training programs, which are the primary source of training for medical interpreters across the state. “I couldn’t have partnered with a student who is more passionate about the importance of working with medical interpreters and dedicated to teaching future providers how to give guidance to interpreters in real world situations,” added Morris, who looks forward to conducting more training with both medical and advanced practice nursing students at the medical school. 

Kerr is pleased that the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties recognizes the ability for nurse practitioners to work effectively with a medical interpreter as a core competency.

“We created a solid curriculum which will be sustainable,” said Kerr. “The GSN faculty feel strongly that the learning session should be added to the GSN’s already robust cultural competence training,”

Related story on UMassMedNow:
GSN receives $2.1M grant to expand primary care in Worcester County