Sandra Ceballos | A Way With Words
6-minute read • Healthcare Interpreting Certificate Program
Nearing retirement age and working at a physically demanding job, Sandra Ceballos was looking for a transition to a career that she could do for the rest of her life. She is fluent in both Spanish and English and found a new direction in interpreting, aided by the Healthcare Interpreting certificate program at Cal State San Marcos. Now qualified as a healthcare interpreter, Ceballos also passed the CCHI CHI™ national certification exam and is building her skills with paid assignments. The course was challenging, she says, but it provided the skills and professional knowledge she needs to be successful. “The more you work for something, the more you value it,” she adds. “The possibilities are endless.”
What prompted you to think about healthcare interpreting as a profession?
One of my neighbor’s friends had an injury and when an interpreter came by to take her deposition at home, she asked me to be present. She had a good interpreter but I had to help because, as I’m sure you know, we don’t always have the right words at the right time. That was my first exposure.
How did you settle on CSUSM’s Healthcare Interpreting certificate program?
I was getting emails about the interpreting course at Cal State San Marcos, but it was out of my budget. I had been doing real estate for 22 years and I’ve been through ups and downs with that. When I was unemployed, I asked at the Career Center if they offered anything about interpreting because I didn’t want to go back to real estate. The career agent emailed me in February 2022 and said the CSUSM interpreting program was added to their list of courses [that offer federal job training funds]. I immediately applied and took the course. It was a blessing to me.
It takes hard work to develop the right skills. What was your goal?
When [course instructor] Maribeth Bandas asked us, “Why are you doing this?” I said that I am 60 years old and have a very physical job right now, and I don’t think I can do this much longer. I’m doing custodial work, and I want to be able to transition into something less physical and something that I can do for the rest of my life.
I thought this would be perfect because I’m bilingual so I was halfway there. I scored advanced-high on my language proficiency exam for both Spanish and English. I’ve been through some interpreting sessions already and it is very satisfying.
You completed the course, passed the final written assessment at CSUSM and also passed an official language proficiency exam. And then you applied to take a national certification exam. How did that go?
Yes, I passed! [Ceballos earned the CCHI CHI™ Certified Healthcare Interpreter Certification through the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters.]
That is a great accomplishment!
I didn’t go to college, but two of my three kids graduated from Cal State San Marcos. It was such a proud thing for me to know that my kids went to Cal State San Marcos, and it meant a lot to me to take this Extended Learning course.
How did you start getting interpreting work?
I met someone who went through the interpreting program with Ms. Bandas and she had told me that I should take her course. I kept in touch with her and she was already working when I was going through the program. She’s been guiding me and helped me to get work by forwarding some assignments she couldn’t take. I introduced myself and sent my credentials, and right away they said to confirm if I could do the assignments. And I did. So far, I’ve been doing assignments for Iris Interpreting and The Integrity Company.
What is your next step?
Right now, my assignments are freelance because I’m still working at night and I want to make sure that agencies are sending me enough work before I can quit my job. Until I get a steady interpreting job, I will still keep practicing, which is very important.
In the Healthcare Interpreting certificate program, what helped bring your skills to a professional level?
It was a combination of things. First, the accountability. We had to discipline ourselves and schedule that time to be online in Zoom, from 6 to 8 p.m., two days a week. I was working from 3 to 11:30 p.m., so I got permission from my supervisor to take an extra hour twice a week during my lunchtime. I found ways to compensate, whether I stayed late or did extra work.
Ms. Bandas was also very thorough and she would not let us slip. She would give us dialogue to say, "I went to the store and I fell and I hit my chin," and if I said the whole thing but skipped "the chin," she wouldn’t let us continue until I got it because accuracy is extremely important. In interpreting, you can’t just omit or change words. You can rephrase but you have to relay the same message.
She was really good about a lot of things. She said the more you do it, the more familiar you become with the verbiage. You kind of know what the doctor is going to say. I’ve invested a lot of money in flashcards, CDs, old books, new books, anything that helps me expand.
What do your kids think about this new direction you are taking?
They’ve always been proud of me. But even more so now that I did this. I made sure that all my kids went to school. One is a nurse. He has a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Another became a teacher and she got her master’s degree at Cal State San Marcos. The third got her BA at Cal State San Marcos and a master’s in social work at Cal State Long Beach. She works for the County of Orange. As a parent, you always want your kids to succeed.
What does it mean to you to have this professional skill?
It’s a great feeling, knowing that even if I retire, I can continue to do this. It was harder to go through the course for interpreting and the actual test than real estate. Ms. Bandas would not allow excuses. I would say, “I can’t memorize that; I think I’m old.” She would say, “That’s not an excuse; you are smart, you can do this. You just have to practice and memorize.”
The more you work for something, the more you value it. And I’m seeing the fruits of my labor, even though it’s a little bit right now. I’m only doing morning interpreting. I want to go slow and wait for the opportunity to apply for the right job if I want to do steady work. The possibilities are endless.
Please visit the CSUSM Extended Learning website for more information about the Healthcare Interpreting certificate program.