top of page

Language & Healthcare | Language Intersection Insights with Katy Trapp

JNCL-NCLIS Insights: Language at the Intersection

About the Episode:

JNCL-NCLIS is proud to introduce the tenth episode of our Language at the Intersection Insights Interview series. In this episode, we are joined by Katy Trapp, Director of the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Sentara Healthcare, who will help us explore the intersection of language and healthcare, and how multilingualism moves her world.

The transcript for the episode can be found below.



Amanda Seewald (00:09):

Hello, and welcome to the "JNCL-NCLIS Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series, where we talk with professionals from many fields to hear their perspectives on how multilingualism moves our world. The Joint National Committee for Languages and the National Council for Language and International Studies proudly presents this series with generous sponsorship support from Vista Higher Learning.

I'm Amanda Seewald, current president of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Language and International Studies, JNCL-NCLIS. And today we introduce you to Katy Trapp, Director of the Center for Healthcare Ethics at Sentara Healthcare, who will help us explore the intersection of language and healthcare, and how multilingualism moves her world.

Katy Trapp (01:03): Hi, my name is Katy Trapp. I am the Director for the Sentara Center for Healthcare Ethics, and my intersection with language is in healthcare.

Amanda Seewald (01:11): So I'm just gonna start by asking, how is multilingualism important in your work every day? Katy Trapp (01:17): It's extremely important. So we have a variety of patients, of course, and in order to effectively treat and safely treat patients of any kind, we have to be able to communicate with them. And so the only way that we can communicate with many of our patients is through use of an interpreter, through translating our documents so they fully understand and can be involved in their care, which is a key component for our patient rights and healthcare ethics. In addition to of course, providing interpreter and translation services for all of our patients across both of our states. Amanda Seewald (01:52): And since Sentara is such a large company, and there are so many different aspects to what Sentara does with regard to healthcare, what are the challenges to coordinating multilingual responses to your patient needs? Katy Trapp (02:05): So, yes, we are quite large. We have 12 hospitals and several hundred medical practices. We've got rehab services, there's a variety of programs across our services, as well as two health plans. So we have to figure out, how can we provide this service in a somewhat standardized manner so that if our staff travel between facilities, our patients and their families travel between facilities, that they're getting the same quality of care, which is one of our expectations. So we have a single contract for our interpreter and translation services, and we bundle all of our services for video, remote interpreting, onsite interpreting, translation services, and over the phone, as well as cart services under this one contract. And our vendor does a fantastic job of ensuring that whenever we call, whenever there is a need, we have interpreters there in all of the languages that our patient population and our communities need for their language services. Amanda Seewald (03:20): That's wonderful. And so you see the importance of having it available to you right away and having it available, so the immediacy of the response is probably a very important factor here. Can you speak a little bit about that and maybe use an example of where that became such an important factor in caring for someone, or caring for people? Katy Trapp (03:40): Oh, sure. So, you know, each of our hospitals and a couple of free standing places, we have emergency services, of course. And when someone comes in and they are not able to speak English, we have to be able to communicate with them right away for assessment purposes to figure out what happened, what do we need to do to effectively and safely treat this patient? If the family comes in, we need to be able to communicate with them, to help explain what's happening with their loved one, because it's very frightening. I mean, you know, anytime anybody comes into the emergency department, that is not a good day for them and it's not a good day for their family usually. So anything that we can do to help facilitate that conversation and help them to understand what's happening, that's a high priority for us.

(04:33): It's just, it helps take the edge off. You imagine if you went anywhere and you were trying to get help for your child and you didn't understand what that person was saying, it's automatically going to raise the frustration. The anxiety gets in the way of really being able to treat your child, if that's the case. And that's the last thing we wanna do, you know, if there has been some safety concerns, because we weren't able to communicate with the person that walked in and there was a misunderstanding about what they said they needed assistance with and you know, I can't get into too much detail, but if we can't truly understand what happened that led you to walking into the emergency department and we can't assess what's happening, where your pain is, how long this has been going on, any factors that led up to whatever it might be, then there is a high potential that we're gonna miss a diagnosis that we might go down a different path than we would normally go down if we were able to communicate between the physician and the nursing staff, the respiratory team, and then the patient and the family. So it truly can affect and has unfortunately affected patient care by not being able to communicate immediately. So we have over the phone interpreters that are right there that connect within seconds, we've got video access that also can connect within seconds to truly facilitate that conversation so that the treating physician can focus on treating the patient and not trying to figure out the communication side of it. So it takes that away from the physician and what they have to focus on and allows them to truly just treat the patient. Amanda Seewald (06:32): That's phenomenal. Of course, you know, the reverse of that negative impact of not, you know, potentially misunderstanding something, is that when you include a multilingual approach to things, as Sentara has done by investing in these interpretation services, when you have a multilingual approach to serving your patients, you probably see great, you know, experiences from those patients feeling like they're heard feeling like they really can connect in a way that maybe they had before. Can you talk a little bit about how that makes you feel and how you've maybe you've got feedback from patients or from doctors about how this changes things in a positive way to have the multilingual support? Katy Trapp (07:12): Yeah, absolutely. So before we instituted our policies several years ago you know, we had more grievances, there were more safety concerns that were raised. And since we have implemented our interpretation and translation services we have seen a decrease in the patient complaints, we've seen a decrease in family complaints, we've seen decreases in discrimination concerns, we've seen more physicians and patients coming forward and just saying, thank you for allowing us to effectively communicate and talk to each other. Because before we weren't able to do that. Amanda Seewald (07:56): What do you wish as someone who works with patients who are multilingual with large hospitals and doctors and all of the different stakeholders, what do you wish that they knew about the importance of multilingualism and tell us what you, what you've seen and how that's affected your view? Katy Trapp (08:13): Great question. So I got into this work, patient rights and ethics, because I feel strongly you know, this is my passion that every patient should be involved in their care, in their treatment plan that they should be informed to, to their level of understanding about what's happening and the language and communications services side kind of fell in our lap because we, you know, we are patient rights and ethics and doing what is right for every patient. So what do I wish people knew? I wish that everyone saw each person who walked through the door as an individual with their own individual needs and focused on, "what's the best way for me to help this person understand what is happening to them, to help engage them in participating in their care, to the best of their ability?" And then have language be not the focus. So not seeing someone as a, an LEP person, not seeing them as a deaf person, but seeing them as a patient who has walked through the door and doing everything that they can to help them understand what's happening to them, why it's happening to them, and what our plan is together to help get them back to their best quality of life. Linda Egnatz (09:55): Yeah. That really speaks to I think, you know, the heart of what we're trying to do in terms of advocacy for, you know, language programs, especially sometimes in those less common languages where I know, you know, you struggle to find those matches. And I guess my question really would be, as a medical sort of in the medical field and that professional space looking for that, could you just, you know, maybe address for those that are advocating for language, a lot of those who listen to this will be in the, sort of the education side of this piece, and if you would have some words for them on why, what they're doing as language educators and supporting that sort of diversity of multilingualism, why that's so important to your field and to the people that you serve. Katy Trapp (10:48): So when you say educators, you're not talking about like elementary, high school... Amanda Seewald (10:54): We're actually talking about language educators at all levels K-16, including college. And I know you're a nurse. So even nursing programs, how advocating for language education is important to your field and your work in as a nurse and certainly in healthcare ethics, why is it important that there be a wide breadth of language education opportunities? Katy Trapp (11:16): Okay. So I think if we don't have interpreters, if we don't have people who are, who are qualified to do that work, if we don't have people who are qualified to translate documents into all of the languages that our patients speak, then we're not gonna be able to communicate with them. And if we can't communicate with them, then we can't effectively and safely care for their medical and their healthcare needs as a whole person. And not just, you know, I don't mean just treating their whatever disease is, but as a whole person, are we providing the best quality healthcare to them? We can't do that if we can't communicate with them. And so I think as, as educators of people for other language to learn other languages, that's just vital. I think, you know, if we had multilingual, multilingual clinical staff, nurses who spoke those languages, physicians who spoke those languages, that would also be extremely beneficial to really help make those connections.

(12:28): You know, because we have interpreters and they're fantastic but that sometimes honestly from a patient's perspective can be seen as just another person who is now involved in sharing some very private information. And that can be a little off putting initially. So if we had physicians, and respiratory therapists, and nurses, and clinical staff who spoke those languages, that could help put them at ease and make them feel like, okay, this person really understands who I am, not just medically, but as a person and understands my culture and understands why I may not want to you know, look someone in the eye or you know, whatever the cultural aspects of that particular language may be. Amanda Seewald (13:15): Yes, culture and language are so very relevant and important to healthcare. Thanks so very much to Katy Trapp for sharing her perspectives and her experiences with us today.

(13:34) That concludes today's featured story from our "Language at the Intersection Insights" Interview Series. For more information about the advocacy work of the Joint National Committee for Languages and National Council for Languages and International Studies, please visit To learn more about this interview series, hear stories from other professionals, and explore how language moves our world, visit Thank you to our interviewees for sharing their stories, thank you to our series sponsors Vista Higher Learning, and thank you all for listening.

This series is made possible by a generous sponsorship from Vista Higher Learning. To learn more, please visit

_____________________________ About JNCL-NCLIS: Established in 1972, the Joint National Committee for Languages (JNCL) and the National Council for Languages and International Studies (NCLIS) unites a national network of leading organizations and businesses comprised of over 300,000 language professionals to advocate for equitable language learning opportunities. Our mission is to ensure that Americans have the opportunity to learn English and at least one other language. Contact:

134 views0 comments


bottom of page