Patient Experience newsletter, May 2018: Interpretation Services

Monthly updates from the Office of the Patient Experience

First role of an interpreter: Conduit

Todd Kuennen, one of three full-time hospital interpreters at UI Hospitals and Clinics

by Todd Kuennen, hospital interpreter at UI Hospitals and Clinics

Many times during my career as a medical interpreter, I’ve been asked: “I’ve never worked with an interpreter before. How should I speak to the patient?” This question should be discussed before the interpreter and provider enter the room with the patient.

There are four different roles that an interpreter carries out: conduit, clarifier, cultural broker/cultural interface, and advocate. For this article, I will focus on the role of the interpreter as a conduit, becoming the voice of the patient and the provider in order to get the communication across.

First of all, the role of an interpreter is to interpret everything that is being communicated during the medical encounter without adding, omitting, or changing any information. The register should be as close to the original as possible.

As an interpreter, there is a lot of information to take in, process, and then convert into the target language. Here are some tips for providers who are working with an interpreter:

  1. Speak in first person and speak directly to the patient. “Pretend like I’m not even here,” I’ll say.
  2. Avoid having side conversations with the interpreter, as the interpreter should not share our opinions with the patient.
  3. Keep your language concise and to the point. Don’t go off on tangents or use slang or colloquialisms. One time, for example, I could not translate the question: “Tell me. What does it mean not to count your chickens before they’re hatched?” I was stupefied and quickly assured the provider that I was not going to be able to interpret this question as there was no equivalent in Spanish.
  4. Say one to two sentences at a time so that I can retain the information I need to interpret. If the physician, nurse, social worker, etc. rambles on, the interpreting is going to turn from consecutive interpreting to summarizing, and this will only lead to omitted or incorrect information.

In a future Patient Experience newsletter, I will share about the other roles of the medical interpreter. Interpreting and Translation Services may be reached at 319-356-1967, and translation requests may be sent to

Interpreting Services resources

Interpreting Services has collaborated with UI Hospitals and Clinics operators and Cyracom to offer an efficient resource available to Spanish- and French-speaking patients and families after 5 p.m. on weekdays and 24/7 on weekends.

Please direct our Spanish- and French-speaking patients and families to the numbers listed below for questions related to their health care. The number will connect to a UI Hospitals and Clinics operator who will connect with Cyracom.

  • Spanish: 1-844-703-6179
  • French: 1-844-201-9838

Questions? Contact Noelle Andrew at 319-356-0470 or

Spiritual Services: Sunday Mass new location

Meditation Room in UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital (Level 12)

Starting Sunday, May 6, the Catholic Sunday Mass typically held at UI Hospitals and Clinics will be held in the Meditation Room in University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital (Level 12). Mass will continue to be held at 3:30 p.m., but will now be televised on channel 115.

This move will enhance the use of this quiet, meditative, and beautiful space which has been prepared for the use of our patients, families, and staff. Questions? Contact Fr. Timothy Regan,

Recent patient comments about explaining


  • “Nurses explained things (equipment, schedule etc.) thoroughly and patiently.”
  • “Nurse & pharmacist explained all the meds, dosage & side effects.”
  • “The nurse and doctors took the time to explain my discharge instructions and I was not rushed during the discharge process.”
  • “They took the time to explain everything thoroughly and was willing to repeat themselves if necessary until we were comfortable. Thank you.”
  • “We really appreciate the time spent explaining things to us. We always feel like we’re being listened to and we are so thankful for such knowledgeable staff who treat us with respect. Never once did we feel like we were talked down to.”
  • “Provider provides excellent ongoing care, spending time to listen and understand patient concerns. Treatment and options are well explained so informed choices can be made. Provider answers questions/concerns on patient portal in a timely manner.”
  • “The doctors explained everything in terms we all understood and was appreciated.”

  Missed the mark

  • “Did not get food for 24 hrs. because no one explained the ‘order’ system.”
  • “Doctors could have explained better what I should be doing for movement etc & how they would like to me to progress daily.”
  • “I saw several physicians. The typical attitude is ‘dr. knows best’ not especially willing to explain or discuss details.”
  • “I had one nurse that didn’t seem to love her job. She didn’t explain what she was doing I always had to ask.”
  • “I don’t feel the anesthesiologist did a good job of explaining the epidural. He wasn’t very personable.”
  • “Would just keep in mind sometimes all the students are overwhelming when it’s not explained prior to them all entering the room, especially really early in the morning when the kids are still waking up.”
  • “Provider doubled one of my meds without telling me or explaining why.”
  • “I waited in the exam room for over an hour after being checked in and seen by a nurse, with no explanation of the delay or anyone checking on me.”