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Learning to Read the Signs: How PC’s Dental Program is Partnering with the Interpreter Preparation Program

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Rebecca Horton is on a mission. She knows the more her dental students are exposed to diverse patients with a wide variety of needs, the better employees they will make someday. So the Phoenix College (PC) dental faculty was intrigued when she heard about the potential to collaborate with the American Sign Language Interpreter Preparation Program (IPP) at the college. 

“In years past, the Interpreter Preparation Program has worked with the Phoenix College Nursing School or Excellence, however reached out to us with the hope that we could collaborate in a similar manner,” says Horton. “The idea was passed on to me, as my students have a focus on patients with special needs in their fourth semester, and I was all about it.” 

Unfortunately, for many of us in our educational journeys, we are minimally exposed to working with differently-abled people, or cross-training with a completely different career. But PC sees great opportunity in the collaboration.  

Horton collaborated with IPP department faculty Cameo Hunsaker, who shares the same passion around providing students with great learning opportunities. And there’s no better hands-on experience than a simulation. 

“It has taken us about three years to get this simulation ready to go,” says Horton. “As easy as it sounds, there are a considerable number of moving parts to designing a large simulation like this - like developing effective training tools for both sets of students, arranging for the use of the clinic (which is a special challenge during COVID), reaching out to the Deaf community and hand-picking actors that are the right fit for this educational activity, and coordinating with interpreting students outside of their normal class time to participate in the sim. It’s a complex operation with over 40 players.”

“In the field of interpreter preparation, the opportunity to work with in-person clients in authentic environments is the most effective way to train future American Sign Language interpreters,” said Hunsaker. “When other college departments, like the Nursing and Dental Hygiene Schools, open their clinic doors to our students and Deaf community members, the benefits are more far-reaching than any of us could imagine.”

The big day was Friday, April 2. The dental hygiene students provided oral hygiene instructions to the Deaf patient actors, with interpreting services provided by students of the Phoenix College Interpreter Preparation Program.  The Deaf patients provided the students with valuable information about their dental home care, allowing the students to come up with a plan that can improve their oral health and potentially their overall health. 

Hunsaker created a tutorial that was shared with students to assist in preparing them for the simulation. The tutorial covered various details about the Deaf culture, the misconceptions of acceptable social labels, ethical and legal standards, along with videos of various medical interactions.  The videos were used to introduce the dental hygiene students to appropriate ways of communicating with Deaf patients and interpreters and also for the interpreting students to learn how to interpret for a dental appointment. It gives both students an idea of what to look for and the importance of being respectful during the process. 

“The biggest benefit to the two groups of PC students is a collaboration between the two populations,” notes Horton. “Seeing that most of our students, in both student populations, have never worked in a situation like this, we are providing them an opportunity that is not offered in many other places. Many interpreting students do not get the opportunity to train for interpreting in dental appointments.  We have many words and disease processes they may not be familiar with interpreting, so this will provide them with experience in this arena. It will also provide a similar benefit to our dental hygiene students. Most of them do not know the proper etiquette when it comes to communicating with a Deaf patient, along with the legal parameters that they are bound to as a provider.” 

“Not only do interpreting students have the opportunity to interact with real clients, medical students gain exposure to a population that is rarely discussed in educational programs,” said Hunsaker. “Students learn how to communicate with Deaf clients, cultural sensitivity and the legal requirements for all medical professionals to ensure communication access when providing care to a Deaf or Hard of Hearing patient.”

Horton hopes that, between the information they are providing in their didactic course and the basic simulation, students gain enough knowledge to use out in the workforce and keep them safe when practicing their respective duties. 

“Collaborations and simulations like this make our students that much more knowledgeable and also makes PC stand out for our efforts in creating experiences like these, as no other dental hygiene programs in the state of Arizona have a simulation similar to this, nor do they have an actual interprofessional experience,” says Horton.

The ripple effects of collaborations like these are invaluable. PC’s simulations are not only preparing Phoenix College students for cultural competency in the workforce, but also have a positive impact on the entire community.

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