Healthy Living in the North

Patient translators making a difference at UHNBC

Headshot of Julius Okpodi.

Julius Okpodi is a Social Worker at the University Hospital of Northern BC, and a volunteer translator in 5 Nigerian languages, plus Spanish.

Patient translators at the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George are a busy group.

“When you need a translator, you need them in the heat of the moment,” says Linda Locheed, a social worker who initiated the program. “People come from all over the world to Northern BC and they’re heli-skiing or biking and they have an accident. Sometimes we have to contact their families in other countries.”

The program connects patients who don’t speak English with Northern Health staff members who act as volunteer translators.

A total of 36 languages are represented from all parts of the globe. Examples include Portuguese, Urdu, Mandarin, Kiswahili, Farsi, Dutch, American Sign Language, and German.

Social Worker Julius Okpodi hails from Nigeria and has been a volunteer translator ever since joining Northern Health four years ago. He speaks the Nigerian languages Etsako, Afemai, Edo, Bini, and Pidgin English. (The latter is understood by all Nigerians, regardless of their first language.)

“Through translation, we’ve been able to bridge communication barriers, especially when expressing feelings and explaining treatment options,” Okpodi says. ‘We can let patients or family who are immigrants or visitors know what’s required and what the expectations are, such as the effectiveness or after-affects when a treatment is made.”

Okpodi has been called to translate in the short-stay medical unit, internal medicine, the psychiatric ward, and rehab. “I enjoy making a difference in the life of others,” he says.

Locheed notes translation can be even more important during emergencies. “When we had the fires and everybody was evacuated and came to Prince George, the translators were invaluable. Elderly people came without their families, people came from all walks of life,” she says.

If you’re an NH staff member and you’re interested in becoming a translator, please contact Linda Locheed with your name, the languages you speak other than English, and your phone number (not your email). For confidentiality and safety reasons, you must be an NH employee.

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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