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Special Theme: Complementary, Alternative, and Integrative Medicine: IN PROGRESS—SEPTEMBER 2002: SPECIAL FEATURE: APPLICATIONS OF THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Working with Interpreters

An Interactive Web-based Learning Module


Section Editor(s): ANDERSON, M. BROWNELL

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Objective: Medical students are presented with unique challenges when they care for patients with limited English proficiency. Students must learn a complex set of skills needed to care for patients across cultural and language barriers and to understand the impact of their own attitudes and beliefs about caring for these patients. We developed and piloted a multimedia interactive Web-based module aimed at teaching students effective strategies for working with interpreters and diverse patient populations, and at raising their awareness of important legal, ethical, and cultural issues.

Description: First the learner completes a 37-multiple-choice-question (MCQ) pre-test that assesses attitudes, factual knowledge, and ability to analyze written clinical scenarios relevant to the module's content. Learners are then shown a series of professionally produced video vignettes, which reflect diverse patient populations, interpreters, and effectiveness of interpretation strategies (e.g., a Russian-speaking woman with chest pain whose daughter interprets, a medical student interpreting for a Chinese-speaking man using herbal medication, a Haitian woman told of an abnormal mammogram through a trained simultaneous interpreter). In each case, learners submit short answers to on-screen questions analyzing the effectiveness of the interpretation strategies demonstrated. Immediate feedback is given comparing student responses with those of experts. At any time during the module, the learners may view video commentary by legal, ethics, and cultural experts, or access a glossary and Web site links. Students conclude the module by again taking the MCQ test. A final screen compares their pre- and post-MCQ test responses and shows best answers, allowing them to assess their learning. The learners also complete a survey, providing personal cultural information and feedback on the module.

Discussion: All 160 first-year medical students completed the module and evaluated its effectiveness this year. On average, students improved by 20% on the MCQ post-test and 86% of the students were satisfied with the learning experience and acquired new knowledge. As a result of their participation in the module, students examined their own cultural and linguistic backgrounds and made the following comments: “I am interested in exploring the way my own culture and cultural biases could impact my working with patients from other cultures”; “This module has opened my eyes to the fears and concerns of immigrants who do not speak English.” Therefore, this pilot of the module effectively imparted guidelines for, and raised awareness of, medical interpreting. The most common critique of the module was that as a result of technical difficulties, it was time-consuming. A more rigorous evaluation is planned for the next academic year. We are also working to enrich and enhance the module for more experienced clinicians (GME and CME). As a complementary educational tool, the Internet has the advantages of allowing students to work at their own paces, view engaging video clips, and participate in interactive learning with immediate feedback and self-assessment.1


1. Kaelber D, Bierer B, Carter J. A Web-based clinical curriculum on the cardiac exam. Acad Med. 2001;76:548–9.

Section Description

Peer-reviewed Collection of Reports on Innovative Approaches to Medical Education

© 2002 Association of American Medical Colleges