Gillette Children’s is committed to creating an equitable, anti-racist and inclusive environment where all patients and staff feel welcomed and valued.
This promise to lift every voice and hear diverse perspectives is at the heart of the work provided by the Gillette interpretation services team.
“What we do as interpreters is crucial,” says Andrea Zehrer, the lead of interpretation services at Gillette.
“It’s really not overstating things when I say the accuracy and communication skills we bring to families who do not speak English as their first language can have life or death consequences,” Zehrer stresses.
Zehrer and her team, which includes in-house Somali interpreter, Mahamed Barkhadle, and interpreter services specialist, Rebecca Spars, make sure Gillette families can understand important information such as key medical decisions, discharge instructions, and educational materials.
From Mexico to Minnesota
Andrea Zehrer is an interpreter for Spanish speaking patient families and is proud that Spanish is her first language.
“I grew up in Mexico City,” she says. “In kindergarten I began to learn English because my school was bilingual.”
Zehrer moved to Minnesota in 1999 and began her interpreter career as a freelancer. “A friend who was working at Gillette told me about an opportunity to be a full-time Spanish interpreter at Gillette,” Zehrer recalls.
It was her own experience as a mom to a son and daughter that made Zehrer realize how her work as a medical interpreter could bring compassion and reduce stress for families.
“I applied and, luckily, got the job at Gillette 13 years ago,” Zehrer says.
“I wanted my interpreter services to be the best for families, so I went back to school and got certified through a program called ‘CCHI, Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters.’ This training allowed me to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity and to foster empathy for all families,” she adds.
Difficulties and rewards
The most difficult part of the job for Zehrer is when she needs to deliver bad news to patients and families. “It really takes an emotional toll,” she says.
“I worked with a child who was facing end of life issues and it was a challenge to explain things in an age-appropriate way. At times, it was also emotionally overwhelming for me. I needed to be caring and to provide support for this family during a very difficult time,” Zehrer says.
One of the most rewarding parts of her work comes when she helps to create a more inclusive and empathetic environment. “I’m proud of the understanding and trust the interpretation services team has built,” she says. “Overall, my team is indispensable in providing comprehensive, patient-centered care at Gillette.”
Cooking and crafting
In her time away from Gillette Zehrer likes to go on hikes with her family, do crafts and cook. When she wants a taste of home, she enjoys El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul. “It’s authentic Mexican food,” Zehrer says. “I recommend it!”