Language Barriers in Medicine: “Everyone Deserves to be Understood”

Elizabeth Colon
July 19, 2022

As the child of Latino parents who didn’t speak English and a sister to two siblings with hearing impairments, I have first-hand experience as to the struggles and challenges of those who immigrate to a new country without a basic proficiency in its language. I also witnessed firsthand the communication breakdown that occurred in everyday interactions for my parents and siblings. The inability to speak with my sisters as they sat right across the table, the confusion that stemmed while working with government organizations or even getting pulled out of a school to serve as an interpreter for my parents’ medical appointments is why I wanted to create a better way to communicate and that is how Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions was born in 2007.

At our core, Metaphrasis believes the desire to help is a universal language. It begins with understanding that communication is about more than just words, but context as well. We are of the fundamental belief that the only way to truly be of service to others is to understand where they come from and how they see the world. Whether through our work ensuring that information is translated properly, or providing support as an on-site interpreter, we help our clients provide communication that is caring, compliant, compassionate and, most importantly, human, so that nothing gets lost in translation. We work closely with our clients to provide them with interpreting, document translations, transcription and voice-over talent so that they can be successful in communicating effectively with those they serve.

My desire to ensure that everyone deserves to be understood, I knew I wanted to give back to a community that resembled where I grew up; a community that once took care of a single mother of six with dignity and respect regardless of our socio-economic status and so I was very intentional about where I wanted to give back and that is how I landed at Humboldt Park Health-Advancing Health Equity. For eleven years I sat on the Humboldt Park Health Foundation Board in the heart of Humboldt Park where I contributed to raising money for programs, services and equipment that patients need to lead a healthier lifestyle. After my term was finished, I needed to remain involved, so I joined the Health Equity Committee in 2021 where we work on addressing social determinants of health and diversity, equity and inclusion. This new journey gave me insight on how important it is for someone to have housing, transportation, food and other necessities that impact one’s health. Many of the patients at Humboldt Park Health are marginalized and often under-represented and giving them a voice is—and continues to be—important to me. Our goal is to tackle these issues and provide the resources and services to eliminate health inequalities for generations to come. Today, HPH has a food pantry, provides free transportation to and from a patient’s home so they can make their doctor appointments and partnerships to address housing concerns, mental health and other factors that impede positive health outcomes.

As someone who has kept HPH close to my heart and sees how every dollar counts, I agreed to plan the annual signature event – The Power of Community which raises funds for a purpose. This year theme, Transforming Wellness tied in nicely with the development of the up-and-coming Wellness Center adjacent to the Humboldt Park Health campus. The community will have access to a beautiful building that breathes fresh air and provides patients access to sports medicine, meditation, nutrition and a health club to thrive with their families in a safe environment. Can you imagine, living below poverty and having access to such a beautiful facility? I can, and I am so excited for the patients and community who will begin to transform their lives one day at a time.

I hope that my contribution in all facets of my business, Humboldt Park Health and in the community at large, breaks barriers that create challenges and struggles for communities that deserve to be heard, seen and understood.