2005 PFIG Recipient Veronica Barlas

Career Administrator

Veronica Barlas
College of Arts & Sciences
2006 Graduation Year

Internship: Arlington Free Clinic

Notes on the first week

I am so glad to be back working at the Arlington Free Clinic. I had an internship here once before, two summers ago. They introduced me to medical interpretation, and I got so many great opportunities to practice it with them.

Last year I co-founded the Student Interpreter Service Initiative (SISI), which provides free, trained Spanish interpreters to the UVA hospital. There are quite a few Spanish-speaking patients who use the hospital, and the entire hospital system only has three or four Spanish interpreters. I wanted to come back to work here because next year I will be the president of the SISI organization, and I wanted the opportunity to practice more medical interpretation before I go back to UVA. Hopefully my experiences here at the Clinic will make me better able to lead the interpreting group next year.

The main project I am working on during this internship is a patient education campaign. The doctors often see the same chronic illnesses over and over in patients at the Clinic, and they wanted a comprehensive but easy to understand handout they could give patients when they are diagnosed with a certain illness. I am researching and writing the handouts in English, and then translating them into Spanish. The original idea was to make four of them, covering diabetes, hypertension, asthma and high cholesterol. In brainstorming with some of the nurses, we came up with several other ideas as well: healthy diet, acid reflux, mental health and cancer. Mental health concerns are often relevant for some of the patients here because many of them are under a lot of stress and pressure. I want to be able to give them information that will help take the stigma away from seeing the counselor or psychiatrist.

I’m also hoping to create a general handout on cancer, talking about what it is and explaining some of the words doctors use when talking about it, as well as outlining some of the common treatment options.


These eight weeks have gone by faster than I thought they would. I am in my last week at the Arlington Free Clinic, and things have been very busy. One employee is off on paternity leave, and I am filling in for him. He takes all the pharmacy request calls. I’ve been listening to all the messages on the pharmacy line, pulling charts, checking to make sure the patient can order a refill on the medications they’ve called about, and then giving the charts to the pharmacist. On Monday, there were 34 calls (just in the morning)! I think I spent about six hours just finding charts and getting all the paperwork in order.

I have also been interpreting during evening clinics, which is sometimes difficult. I can understand most patients with no problem, but there are a few who are a challenge to me. If they don’t enunciate or if they constantly go off-topic, it’s really hard to stay focused, understand them and interpret accurately. Sometimes I am the only interpreter around, though, so I have to stick it out and try to understand the patient.

The original goal for my internship was to research, write, and translate about five patient-education handouts, but we’ve added a few since then. I’ve since added H. pylori (a bacteria that can cause stomach cancer and ulcers), osteoporosis, and mental health. After I write the English version, the doctors and nurses edit it, and then I translate it and get a native Spanish-speaker to edit the translation.

I like how much I’ve learned during this internship. I didn’t even know what H. pylori was, and I didn’t know what the different cholesterol numbers meant, and I didn’t know much about how to prevent osteoporosis, but I’ve learned all about those conditions in my research.

Final Reflections

In my last few weeks at the Arlington Free Clinic, I wrapped up all my disease information sheets and went over them with a psychology student from Guatemala who was also interning at the clinic. She was a great editor and really caught all the details, so it was a big help to have her there. She also interpreted many of the same nights that I did, and I learned a lot from her. We’d go over strange words together, which was good for both of us. There were words that she could only think of in Spanish, and ones I could only think of in English, so we’d help each other with vocabulary while we waited for patients.

I also interpreted for a breast cancer awareness class and an osteoporosis class in my last weeks, which was a totally different dynamic than the one-on-one doctor/patient sessions I am used to. I found it a lot harder to interpret for the classes because they were a mix of English and Spanish speakers. Many of the participants wanted to speak at once and it was hard to sort out who to interpret for at one time. It takes a different technique to be able to manage large mixed groups like that, and I don’t have a lot of experience with it.

I was very grateful for the opportunity to return to the clinic this summer. I enjoy interpreting and I think I can never get enough practice. Every patient throws something new at me, so I think the more experience I have, the more knowledge and improvisational skills I’ll be able to draw on. When my internship ended, I went back to the clinic three more evenings to interpret. I plan on going back during breaks from school, and now I feel ready to start interpreting at the UVA hospital because of all the great experience I got this summer.