Agents of empathy: How medical interpreters bridge sociocultural gaps in genomic sequencing disclosures with Spanish-speaking families Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVES: To describe how linguistic tools used by interpreters during return of genomic sequencing results may have impacted communication with Spanish-speaking families, and to discuss the implications for the role of medical interpreters. METHODS: Using discourse analysis, we identified and categorized the various ways hospital-based interpreters adapted clinicians' language in 37 audio-recorded sessions in which Spanish-speaking parents participating in a clinical trial received their child's genomic sequencing results from English-speaking clinicians. RESULTS: We found that interpreters adapted clinicians' statements using five empathic linguistic tools: contextualization, encouragement, checking comprehension, endearment, and softening. Interpreters used an average of four linguistic tools per session, with contextualization and encouragement being the most frequently used. CONCLUSIONS: Interpreters used empathic linguistic tools to alter clinicians' statements when communicating genomic information to Spanish-speaking families. Our findings demonstrate the critical role of interpreters as cultural mediators and facilitators of understanding for Spanish-speaking families. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: This study expands upon the definition of clinical empathy in interpreter-mediated sessions. Our findings suggest that revisions of standards of medical interpretation practice may be warranted regarding interpreters' ability to adapt clinicians' language in a culturally sensitive manner during interpretation.

altmetric score

  • 7.75

author list (cited authors)

  • Gutierrez, A. M., Statham, E. E., Robinson, J. O., Slashinski, M. J., Scollon, S., Bergstrom, K. L., ... McGuire, A. L.

citation count

  • 2

publication date

  • December 2018