Featured Interpreter: Dale Lundstrom, CHI

  • Post author:
  • Post comments:0 Comments
  • Reading time:9 mins read
  • Post last modified:

Meet Dale Lundstrom, a Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) and interpreter trainer based in Salt Lake City, UT. With a profound passion for language, Dale has built a dynamic career in freelance interpretation and translation along Utah’s Wasatch Front. He also trains new interpreters at Intermountain Health and educates bilingual staff on the importance of qualified interpretation. In this engaging Q&A, Dale shares his journey into interpretation, memorable career moments, the challenges of high-stakes environments, and his strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, along with practical advice for fellow interpreters.

Q: Dale, what inspired you to become an interpreter, and how did your passion for language evolve into a career in both interpretation and training?

A: When I finished college, life threw some curve balls. Despite those challenges, I found a job that I fell in love with as a Spanish medical interpreter for Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City. Before then I had never even heard of medical interpretation. Through a combination of love for the kids, discovering my fascination with finding linguistic equivalents, and seeing that I could help people, I had found something that inspired me.

From that first position as a part-time interpreter, I have come to find work as a free-lance interpreter, staff interpreter and now trainer. Being a labor of love, I looked for more work in interpretation and ended traveling up and down the Wasatch Front in Utah to different medical, school and government services to interpret. A medical interpreter training opportunity came up and I took as soon possible. During that training, it became apparent that community interpreters are in high demand. The instructor molded a passion that had been dormant inside me. After formal training, national certification came relatively quickly. Before the pandemic, there were only a handful of certified interpreters in Utah and I ended up starting a position as a staff interpreter for a health care company which lead to additional opportunities to train new interpreters. Between trainings, it is a pleasure to connect those who need services to those who can provide them alongside my talented interpreting colleagues.

Q: Can you share one of the most memorable or impactful moments you’ve had during your career as an interpreter? How did it shape your approach to your work?

A: There are so many moments that make an impact on a daily basis in medical interpreting. One of the reasons I love the profession is being able to see that light come to both providers’ and patients’ eyes when they can communicate effectively and get their questions answered. Among the babies being born, families going through hard medical challenges and patients making great strides in recover,  there is one such moment that stands out. Once I interpreted for the mother of a special baby who survived an episode of having his heart stop. By pure luck, I was standing right around the corner from the patient’s as he stopped breathing and a ‘Code Blue’ was announced over the hospital PA system. Watching over a dozen medical personnel rushing in, I noticed the patient’s mom in the back of the room with a look of pure terror on her face. While as an interpreter it wasn’t possible to alleviate all her concern and anguish, she was able to at least keep up with the flurry of activity that ultimately saved her son’s life.

That is just one of many times I have seen the power of interpretation making a difference in patients’ lives. The mother in that experience laughed as she expressed what she was thinking that day. She expressed gratitude that she understood everything in real time, even though it didn’t make the experience any less scary.

Every time I wonder if I’m doing quality work or whether I’m making a difference, remembering this and other experiences is a reminder that interpreters are instrumental not only in facilitating language access, but helping people make it through rough experiences that are many times unexpected.

Q: Interpreting can be challenging, especially in emotional or high-stakes settings like healthcare or judicial environments. Could you discuss a particularly challenging situation you’ve faced and how you managed it?

A: The first step in managing a high-stakes situation is to stay calm. One of my best mentors when first starting in the field frequently said, ‘Take a deep breath. Don’t forget that you can manage the flow of communication.’ His words are extremely helpful.

Once while interpreting in a family care conference regarding a patient who was in the last stage of life, emotions were nearing a breaking point. Family members of the patient disagreed on which care plan should be carried out. Sensing the tension between siblings and children of the patient, I took an extra moment to breathe before starting my interpretation instructions to the family and providers. I calmly stated the ground rules. I told them of the need for one person to speak at a time so that everything could be interpreted to all parties. My introduction was purposefully slower and more emphasized. Spending an extra minute on that pre-session set the tone for the family and helped them listen to each other rather than speak over one another. To me, it was a great example of a situation where interpretation doesn’t change the decision made by those involved, but it can help them reach a decision with less confusion and more clarity.

Q: With such a demanding career, how do you maintain a healthy work-life balance? Are there any hobbies or activities outside of work that help you recharge?

A: There is no doubt that interpreting is challenging career. One thing I have discovered is relying on team members to carry the load, both emotionally and logistically. I have been very lucky to always be surrounded by colleagues who work with me to make sure patients and clients are taken care, no matter the time of day. We work as a team to make sure that we can take breaks and that we can leave work at work. When I first started, I felt the weight of the world. I often thought things such as, ‘I have to be available all the time because you never know when someone will need interpretation.’ Part of the reason I love training is because it helps maintain that work-life balance with more and more interpreters that can help.

Apart from work, music is what I do to relax. I arrange music, listen to music, and even sing in a barbershop quartet! Music is another activity that helps keep the humanity mindset when interpreting work is becoming more mundane or mechanical. Music is an important aspect of humanity and interpreting is a human activity.

Q: In your experience, what are the core ethical principles that interpreters must adhere to across healthcare, education, and judicial settings? 

A: Having worked as a contractor, behind the scenes at a healthcare company and working with new interpreters, what makes the biggest impact in quality as an interpreter is the preparation that leads to the highest level of accuracy. When new interpreters and colleagues ask questions about sticky ethical situations, most of the time the root of their predicament is something that was not interpreted accurately or clarified properly. Although every field of interpretation has different ethical principles, one that they all share is accuracy and completeness. If an interpreter studies, prepares and practices their craft, suddenly their ethical dilemmas start to disappear and they can provide smoother, higher quality service for those who utilize that service.

Q: Can you provide an example of a situation where effective communication significantly improved a professional outcome?

A: One situation where effective communication significantly improved a professional outcome was a relatively routine imaging exam. The patient had no gall bladder, and the imaging was to specifically examine their gall bladder. While not a difficult miscommunication to discover, effective communication helped both the provider and the patient to minimize confusion. The resulting cancellation of the imaging procedure saved the company time and resources, removed financial burden from the patient, and most importantly eliminated unnecessary radiation exposure for an exam that would have yielded no useful information.

The professional outcome was a bonus as well. The imaging department was grateful for the ease of the conversation and saving time and resources that they now understand what a difference clear communication can make. They call interpreters more often now.

Q: Could you share some specific strategies or subtle adjustments that interpreters can make during their professional interactions to enhance trust and rapport with clients and colleagues?

A: I’m excited to share what I know on this subject during LEO’s 9th conference! As a sneak peek, I’ll tell you that one subtle adjustment interpreters can make which leads to significantly smoother interactions with service users is in the minor changes in phraseology: the words and tone you use makes a big difference! As interpreters we always interpret what is said, but the way we communicate while setting up our work, accepting assignments, and preparing for sessions goes a long way to set the tone for those appointments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.