Mighty Blog

Celebrating National Interpreter Appreciation Day

May 1, 2024, is National Interpreter Appreciation Day. This day recognizes the vital work of language professionals who help bridge communication gaps. It’s celebrated on the first Wednesday of May each year.

In health care, medical interpreters play a crucial role by breaking down language barriers for patients who have limited English proficiency. To celebrate National Interpreter Appreciation Day, Mary Barrera Cobos, a Spanish interpreter at Children’s Minnesota, shares her journey and what it means to be a medical interpreter.

Mary’s journey as a medical interpreter

The below is written by Mary Barrera Cobos, Spanish interpreter at Children’s Minnesota. 

Mary Barrera Cobos, Spanish interpreter at Children’s Minnesota.
Mary Barrera Cobos, Spanish interpreter at Children’s Minnesota.

As a child, I was always fascinated by the intricacies and functioning of the human body, and I dreamed of becoming a doctor. However, my passion for language led me down a different path. Instead, I earned a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics and a master’s degree in translation. In 2012, I left Mexico, my home country, and relocated to Minnesota, where I discovered the perfect career that allowed me to combine my linguistic knowledge with my interest in medicine – a medical interpreter.  

After a few years working in various clinics and hospitals, I had the pleasure of joining the interpreter services team at Children’s Minnesota, a place that has grown to feel like a second home over the past nine years. Here, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside fellow interpreters who share my passion for language, culture and communication. The Children’s Minnesota interpreter services department includes a dedicated team of 56 interpreters that work at our campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and our clinic in West St. Paul. Our interpreter services team comes from all corners of the world: Argentina, Burma (Karen), Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kayin State, Laos, Mexico, Oromia, Peru, Puerto Rico, Somalia, Spain, United States and Venezuela. At Children’s Minnesota, the languages we interpret are Arabic, Creole, French, Hmong, Karen, Oromo, Somali and Spanish.

What it means to be an interpreter

As we celebrate National Interpreter Appreciation Day, I’ve taken time to reflect on what it means to be an interpreter. To me, it’s more than just a job. It’s a career that brings me a profound sense of fulfillment that comes through facilitating seamless interactions between providers and patients who speak different languages. It’s the satisfaction of dissolving language barriers so that comprehension prevails in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Above all, there’s nothing more rewarding than witnessing the sense of relief on a family’s face when they see us and realize we’ll be by their side throughout their appointments. Our work not only helps with the exchange of information, but also eases their anxiety and fosters a feeling of comfort.   

Being an interpreter is much more than just transferring a message from one language to another and memorizing endless lists of medical terms. It’s sharing the joy with families when they welcome a new baby into the world, celebrating milestones when they come in for their well-child checkups, and rejoicing in victories over illnesses like childhood cancer. 

Yet, being an interpreter also means experiencing profound sadness and grief. Through us, a family may receive news of an unexpected diagnosis, an unfavorable prognosis or turn of events. Or, a family needs compassionate guidance while navigating the despair and uncertainty of losing a child.  

Being an interpreter also means supporting families who have recently immigrated to the United States, having left everything that once was familiar to them. We help families navigate a new language, country, culture and medical system. 

Working as an interpreter has not only provided me with the chance to use my language skills and immerse myself in the fascinating world of medicine, but it has also been a transformative journey where I have not only grown professionally, but personally. I have become more compassionate and empathetic and feel I have found a place where I belong. Moreover, it has been an eye-opening experience that has allowed me to realize when families visit Children’s Minnesota, we only get a glimpse of their lives. Beneath the surface, there is a myriad of cultural, linguistic, emotional and social complexities that many times we are unaware of but must be mindful of. I may not have pursued my childhood dream of becoming a doctor, but if my work and contributions to the health care system can make a difference in someone’s care, life, or even someone’s day, I’ll take being an interpreter any day!  

If you see an interpreter today, please wish them a happy Interpreter Appreciation Day!

Alexandra Rothstein