Addressing Language Barriers When Working With New American Patients

uvmmedicine blogger Molly Markowitz '18
uvmmedicine blogger Molly Markowitz ’18

As a third year medical student on my psychiatry rotation who aspires to someday work with children and families, I was in my element recently in clinic with a child psychiatrist at UVM Medical Center. Legos strewn across the floor, a magical looking jungle filled with plastic animals in the corner, and a life-sized stuffed dog on the black leather couch set the stage for our patient visits.

On my first morning, we were meeting with a New American family who was there for an autism assessment for one of their children. I was excited; this was the first time I would be working with a non-English speaking family in a healthcare setting. However, I soon realized that I, and others members of the healthcare team, had a lot of questions about the resources available to healthcare providers working with non-English speaking patients. When I decided to investigate possible resources in the service of providing the best possible care for our patient, I was told about a website called Health Reach from the National Library of Medicine, which provides health information in many different languages ( Since autism is a complicated and often emotional diagnosis for families, it was important for me to make sure that our family had access to information about autism in their preferred language so that they could process and read about it over time.  And when it came time to provide the family with the diagnostic report, we made sure that it was translated into their preferred language.

Working with this New American family inspired me to try and make sure that all healthcare providers in my community had easy access to Health Reach. With the help of several department heads, I contacted the team responsible for electronic health records at the medical center to have Health Reach added to the Reference links tab. As medical students, we are in a unique position to advocate for our patients. I want to encourage my fellow classmates to take a look at the website and to try to incorporate its use when working with non-English speaking patients. Further, we can utilize additional resources such as in-person and remote translation services. For example, before I meet with a non-English speaking family, I make sure to grab one of the iPads capable of remote translation, as some families may find it useful. It is also possible to have documents and forms translated into other languages by contacting interpreting services at UVM Medical Center, ensuring that our patients have access to information in a language they understand.

As medical students, we strive to provide compassionate, patient-centered care, and I believe utilizing Health Reach and the other resources provided to us through the medical center will help us in our mission.


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