Guest Post: Thomas Johnston’s Story

Why Get Certified – Thomas Johnston’s Story

Hello, my name is Thomas Johnston. I am a Certified Healthcare Interpreter™ and the Interpreting Operations Manager at Affordable Language Services. I am very passionate about what I do, and it has been quite an interesting ride for me. Allow me to tell you how I got here.

Spanish is my native tongue, as I am originally from Lima, Peru. I started my formal English language training at a very young age, in primary school. As a teenager, while attending high school, my parents enrolled me in a Language center, and then I had the chance to be immersed in the culture and language by spending a year of my life as a foreign exchange student. Upon my return to Peru, to attend college, I had already fallen in love with speaking both languages, and the opportunities said skill presented in my young life. While I was attending college full time, I decided to give back to my community by actually teaching English as a foreign language to other Peruvians, in addition to interpreting for family members socially. Little did I know that was the start of my exciting career in Interpreting.

Shortly after, I found myself doing interpretation for high level executives visiting Peru in business ventures. That is all it took, I was hooked for life. Upon my relocation to the US, every job I have held has had a need of my bilingual and bicultural skills, but I was ignorant to the need and demand for trained interpreters in my community. After a few years of working full time mostly in the financial field, and after that in the publishing world, I found myself lying in bed for three months as a result of a serious accident, while removing some unwanted trees from my back yard, in my newly acquired home.

I managed to break my pelvis, and almost destroy one of my knees and foot in the process. While I was recouping, I had lots of time to research, and investigate how to continue to utilize my skills, and I found Affordable Language Services almost by accident. Affordable had already been in business for a few years when I discovered them, and it did not take me long to formalize a relationship with what now is my new found home.

At the beginning, I started as an independent contractor working after hours, and on weekends, on call for emergency requests. Shortly after, I became more involved by doing dispatching for the agency for the same type of requests, on weekends, and after normal business hours. By this time I had already attended orientation, where I remember Lynn Elfers, our agency owner and Director, telling us that we were merely going to scratch the tip of the iceberg with that four hour orientation. I also remember thinking to myself, how much more can I learn about this, I am bilingual right? Boy was I in for a treat!

As I became more comfortable in difficult assignments and improved on my terminology, I was also being exposed to situations where I did not feel 100% prepared. It was then I realized I needed more training, if I was going to continue taking this profession seriously. I attended Bridging the Gap, a 40 hour medical interpreting training, and that was an eye opening, learning experience for me. I learned about Interpreter skills, culture, different communication styles, when and how to advocate for someone, and it helped me become a better interpreter. As the years went by, I decided I wanted to become even more involved with Interpreting professionally, and I was fortunate enough to find a place for my skill, education and professional background as a member of the staff for Affordable Language Services, and in our mission of being the leaders in professional interpretation, it was an easy decision to become nationally certified when the opportunity arose.

Our company Director Lynn Elfers is always encouraging our new Interpreters to better themselves. How? To quote her at my first orientation: “Education, education, education.” There are millions of people in the world that are bilingual, not all have interpreting skills, and out of those who do, only an elite few have ever had formal training in the field of Interpreting. After years of working on call, I realized this is a rewarding but quite challenging profession.

I want to say that here at Affordable Language Services, I have not just been encouraged to better my skills and knowledge, but supported and sponsored to travel to take the test and cover said expenses, to invest in my having this certification and credential. After this encouragement and support, I took the test – it was a gratifying experience for me.

What I like most about interpreting is the interaction with other people, whether it is with people with limited English proficiency, or healthcare professionals. What I like about my job here is the interaction I have with our pool of professional interpreters, and my colleagues here in the office.

Healthcare Certification is a good goal because it means you take pride in what you do, and you want to become the best at it.

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