“Oh! she doesn't speak english!” assessing resident competence in managing linguistic and cultural barriers

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Residents must master complex skills to care for culturally and linguistically diverse patients.


As part of an annual 10-station, standardized patient (SP) examination, medical residents interacted with a 50-year-old reserved, Bengali-speaking woman (SP) with a positive fecal occult blood accompanied by her bilingual brother (standardized interpreter (SI)). While the resident addressed the need for a colonoscopy, the SI did not translate word for word unless directed to, questioned medical terms, and was reluctant to tell the SP frightening information. The SP/SI, faculty observers, and the resident assessed the performance.


Seventy-six residents participated. Mean faculty ratings (9-point scale) were as follows: overall 6.0, communication 6.0, knowledge 6.3. Mean SP/SI ratings (3.1, range 1.9 to 3.9) correlated with faculty ratings (overall r=.719, communication r=.639, knowledge r=.457, all P<.01). Internal reliability as measured by Cronbach's α coefficients for the 20 item instrument was 0.91. Poor performance on this station was associated with poor performance on other stations. Eighty-nine percent of residents stated that the educational value was moderate to high.


We reliably assessed residents communication skills conducting a common clincal task across a significant language barrier. This medical education innovation provides the first steps to measuring interpreter facilitated skills in residency training.

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