Pick Uses Spanish Degree to Help Save Lives

Stephen Pick

Stephen Pick (G09) frequently participates in crisis situations and even sees death, but that doesn’t detract from the satisfaction he gets from helping those who need it most. “I really enjoy my job,” he says. “I love what I do.”

Fully using his degree in Spanish, Pick is in a profession that didn’t exist until a few years ago. He is one of 10 people on the Language Access Team at Salem (Ore.) Hospital. It’s receiving attention as the first in Oregon – and one of the first in the nation – to have the majority of its members certified by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.

In a typical day, Pick links 10 to 25 patients with their caregivers, interpreting questions and answers in Spanish for patients who speak little to no English. It is estimated that in the Salem area 24 percent of residents do not speak English at home.

At Salem Health for three years, Pick has a base office, but most of the time he’s on the run. With a pager and phone, he responds to locations in five buildings, going from clinic to emergency room, labs to operating rooms. He sometimes follows doctors on their rounds. Despite being a crucial link between health care staff and patients, he wants invisibility – “as if I’m not here, as if there’s no language barrier,” he says. “I’m trying to make it as smooth as possible.” In addition to the oral interpretation he also translates written instructions from doctors, including discharge directions and follow-up instructions, and the critical written instructions from pharmacists on use of medicines they have prescribed.

Noting the crucial role he fills in a profession in which patient lives are in his hands, he says the job can be both emotionally draining and mentally taxing. But it can also be rewarding. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work,” he says. “I get more energy out of it than I’m giving.”

Pick is ahead of his time in Oregon. He’s one of just over a dozen in the state to receive the certification, based on written and oral exams covering medical terminology, ethics and cultural knowledge. He notes the importance of being more than just bilingual, as intercultural competence includes such things as hand gestures and body language that greatly help in understanding.

Pick fueled his interest in Spanish while helping build houses on mission trips to Mexico while in high school in Vancouver, Wash. He started Spanish instruction in middle school, took classes in high school and community college, and came to George Fox with enough credits to complete his degree in three years.

He started as a theatre major with a Spanish minor, but ultimately opted for a double major. Today, Pick actively uses his theatre degree as a cofounder, with Caleb Thurston (G10), of Valley Repertory Theatre in Newberg. They have completed 10 productions since 2011, with Pick directing half of them.