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  • Medical interpretation

    Susan Benner's volunteer work at Ames clinic aids Spanish-speaking patients.

  • In late 2003 Susan Benner saw an article about Ames' free medical clinic, immediately recognizing a need she could fulfill. Today, more than 600 volunteer hours later, Benner is in her fifth year providing much-needed Spanish interpretation services at the clinic.

    Benner is a senior lecturer in the Department of English. She teaches classes in English as a Second Language, first-year composition, general linguistics and international teaching assistant training.

    But on Thursday evenings Benner volunteers about three hours of her time at the downtown Ames clinic, which one night a week provides free, non-emergency medical treatment to anyone.

    "Basically, these are people who don't have insurance and don't qualify for Medicaid," said Benner, who like everyone else at the clinic receives no compensation.

    Some clients are unemployed or have jobs not providing health insurance. Some are passing through town and others, such as relatives of international students, are here for lengthy stays. Nearly one-third of the clients speak Spanish and many of them know little or no English, according to clinic administrator Mary Kitchell.

    "We could not get along without Susan," Kitchell said. "She goes above and beyond her regularly duties.

    "Susan is so friendly and outgoing toward our Spanish-speaking patients. She provides an extra special touch through her patience, compassion and enthusiasm."

    Benner's main duty at the clinic is to interpret for Spanish-speaking clients. However, her interpretation skills are not limited to Thursday nights at the clinic.

    When health-care providers contact her, she will phone Spanish-speaking clients to convey medical instructions. She's also delivered medicines to clients, expertly explaining the instructions in Spanish, and has simply "checked on" clients when the need arises.

    Sometimes clinic patients are instructed to go to the emergency room, and Benner has accompanied them. Her strong Spanish interpretation skills can accurately handle the medical and anatomical terms and descriptions needed for correct diagnoses and treatments. Kitchell appreciates Benner's objectivity, which is needed so she does not inject her opinions to either the medical staff or the patients.

    "I really enjoy the work," Benner said. "We have a lot of repeat clients who I've gotten to know. I've watched children grow up. And I enjoy the people who work at the clinic. They are a great group."

    Kitchell says the clinic is "extremely busy and hectic," but Benner makes clients feel welcome. "She has true devotion to all the clients she serves."

    Benner said she is happy to help people, but feels pangs of frustration because she can't do more.

    "I walk away feeling I'm so glad these people had this option, but I wish they had more options." She said the free clinic, open only one evening a week, cannot accommodate all the people in Ames needing its services.

    Benner learned to speak Spanish when she lived in Ecuador in 1984-85. "I learned it by living it," she said.
    "My original Spanish is Ecuadorian Spanish, from the highlands of Ecuador."

    She's made several trips to Latin America and earned an M.F.A. in literary translation from the University of Iowa. A member of the American Literary Translators Association, Benner has translated two Spanish-language books into English: a collection of fiction by Andean women and an anthology of essays in literary criticism.

    Despite her fluency, she has taken a basic interpretation training program at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines to improve her Spanish medical vocabulary. The training is valuable because she sees many Spanish-speaking clients nearly every Thursday, other than holidays, throughout the year

    "It's rare I'm not there on a Thursday," she said.

Susan Benner

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January 28 to February 10, 2008