Posted by: asprockett | February 16, 2013

Who I Am

My mother is fond of telling the story of my 8-year-old response to the death of our family pet, a canary. Rather than plan a meaningful “beloved family pet funeral,” my first inclination was to ask if I could dissect the bird. I wanted to see if I could figure out how it flew. My interest in the way life works began young, but over the course of my life, I’ve had many work and volunteer experiences that have shown me that there is more to medical care and health than understanding how the human body works; it is also about understanding how people work. My interests and aspirations lie at this intersection of health and human culture.

My desire to combine health care and culture began to develop while I was majoring in Spanish, International Studies, and Pre-Physical Therapy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Throughout college I worked as a physical therapy technician at a local clinic. During one of my first months at the clinic, a Spanish-speaking patient was sent to physical therapy to receive treatment for back pain. Although I was new to the physical therapy clinic, my fluency in Spanish earned me the dual role of interpreter and caregiver. By interpreting for the patient, I helped the therapist discover that her pain was likely due to failing kidneys, a diagnosis missed by her general practitioner primarily due to difficulties in communication. I began to understand the great influence that cultural and language sensitivity can have on the health care field to improve overall patient care.

Throughout my years as a physical therapy technician, I continued to be called in to interpret for patients. While I was interpreting, I noticed how differently the nurses and doctors interacted with the Spanish-speaking patients, such as providing less information or talking to the interpreter instead of the patient. From these experiences, I grew interested in how language barriers affected patient treatment. What I saw inspired me to pursue an honors thesis research project to study the linguistic and cultural barriers to health care as experienced by Midwestern Hispanic patients. I learned that improving cultural and linguistic sensitivity improves not only patient health outcomes, but also improves overall health services by keeping health care costs low and treatments efficient. The more I learn, the more focused I have become on finding a way to care for patients physically, emotionally and culturally.

I progressed from ad hoc interpreting as a technician to volunteering as an interpreter at low-income health clinics in both Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Later, while attending graduate school at Kent State University, I volunteered as an interpreter at a migrant health clinic in Hartville, Ohio. There I witnessed first-hand the cultural and linguistic challenges that I had studied in my senior thesis, and was able to apply my knowledge to improve physician-patient communication and put patients at ease during medical exams.

My time volunteering at the Hartville clinic was my first practical experience in the two-tiered approach I find critical to culturally competent health care: addressing patient needs at the appropriate level of health knowledge, while at the same time educating health care providers about the unique cultural concerns of their patients. At Hartville, I began to teach the physicians about the role of an interpreter when working with non-English-speaking patients by developing an educational pamphlet that is still in use today. By helping the doctors and nurses understand the perspective of the migrant worker, I was able to bridge the gap between health care professionals and linguistically diverse patients. At the same time, patients were more comfortable in exams knowing that the physician was speaking to them through an interpreter who could clearly communicate their needs. While at Hartville, I also worked on a project to translate tuberculosis information into Spanish at an appropriate reading level while also creating an audio version to communicate the same material. I enjoyed the challenge of applying the translation and interpretation skills I was learning in graduate school to my service at the migrant clinic.

My volunteer work in the clinics energized me. During my second year in graduate school, I volunteered as an interpreter for a medical relief trip to rural Nicaragua. I helped my American medical team coordinate with local health care professionals to provide outreach, education, and medical care for the members of their community and to develop sustainable health care practices. I worked closely with our American team to share my understanding of Latin American culture as we interacted with the patients and hospital administrators. In my service, it has become clear that there are gaps in communication and understanding between physicians and patients.

I quickly learned that my role in Nicaragua was that of a cultural ambassador and educator, reaching beyond the bounds of straight-forward interpretation. Before meetings with the Nicaraguan staff, I took time with the American health care providers to discuss strategy based on who they were working with and the goal outcomes of the meeting. We discussed machismo in the context of Latin America and the promotional infrastructure surrounding how a janitor could become a mammography technician. Our educational mission was more successful by embracing cultural norms and maintaining our patience. I returned to Ohio more passionate than ever about public health.

It is my commitment to incorporate service to the community into my career that fits so strongly with public health. By earning the credentials to lead my field in key public health initiatives with an approach of respectful service to our clients, I will best be able to meet the needs of our target populations. I look forward to serving our global community through culturally and linguistically sensitive health education initiatives and program advocacy.



  1. I’m glad you’re doing this blog–I’ve already learned so much more about you! Love it!

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