Medical students’ experiences and perspectives on interpreting for LEP patients at Two US medical schools

Monica B. Vela, Cassandra Fritz, Valerie G. Press, Jorge Girotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Theory Language concordance between patient and provider has been shown to improve health outcomes for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients. However, health care teams often use available ad hoc interpreters without knowing whether their language skills are adequate. Little is known about the role of medical students working as ad hoc interpreters. Hypothesis Bilingual medical students are engaged as interpreters in the care of LEP patients and may serve as a potential resource for health care teams caring for LEP patients. Method We conducted a multi-institutional online survey of graduating medical students at the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago in 2011 and 2012, containing both qualitative and quantitative questions regarding their experiences as interpreters for LEP patients. Results Half (216/430) of contacted students completed the survey; 40% (87/216) of responding students reported being bilingual. Of these students, the vast majority, 84% (73/87), had been asked to interpret for patients in the clinical setting. Only 12% (10/87) of students reported having felt uncomfortable interpreting for patients “often” or “very often.” Over half (53%, 46/87) described incidents during which they felt uncomfortable interpreting. Seventeen (17/46, 37%) students described those incidents as high-stakes clinical settings. Conclusions Medical schools and health care institutions should establish guidelines for students who identify as fluent in another language and are interested in interpreting for LEP patients in clinical settings, to protect both students and patients when language poses a barrier to quality care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-249
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 28 2015


  • Health disparities
  • Interpreters
  • Language barriers
  • LEP
  • Medical spanish


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