By Gavin Colton
Marketing + Communications intern
Megan Meadors put her hand on the young patient’s arm to comfort him and keep him calm.
As a certified surgical technologist (CST) at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, she’d worked plenty of surgeries at the hospital. But this was different. The anesthesia doctor repeatedly asked the child patient to open his eyes but was getting no response.
Megan remembers what happened next. “At that point the doctor knew it was a language barrier issue and said, ‘I wish I spoke French.’ ”
So Megan intervened and made her French-speaking abilities known to the doctor. She had earned a B.A. in French from Northern Kentucky University in 2003 and still spoke fluently.
“The doctor asked me to see if I could get him to open his eyes,” Megan says. “I asked [the child] twice and on the second time his eyes opened. I explained to him that he was just waking up and to be calm because everything went well.”
She kept speaking to the boy.
“He followed my voice and reached in my direction; I was the only person he could understand,” she says.
It wasn’t long before Megan realized what had happened that day: she’d found a new career.
Megan’s recent French-speaking encounter in the operating room has inspired her to pursue a medical translating license so that she will be able to interact more closely with international patients and their families. She is not yet an official interpreter, meaning she cannot obtain legal consent for surgery nor can she talk to the family about surgery or its outcome.
However, she can assist families with directions around the hospital and can speak French to patients inside the operating room in necessary situations. After attaining her B.A. in French in ’03 and her Master of Arts in Teaching two years later, she is currently working toward obtaining her medical translating license.
Megan realizes that it takes a special character to play the role of interpreter in the hospital and operating room setting. Aside from speaking the language, interpreters must be culturally aware of their patients.
“When you're an interpreter at a children's hospital, you're an interpreter for the entire family as well as a liaison between the hospital and the visiting family,” said Megan. “It takes a person who realizes the cultural differences that exist globally, and someone who tries to make the child, as well as the parents, feel comfortable and trust him or her.”
Megan found her inspiration to work in the medical field watching Grey’s Anatomy. After she’d decided to leave her teaching career, she started researching career paths that would take her into the OR.
“Being able to speak French gets my résumé noticed a lot. Managers and directors are very impressed when they find out someone can speak a foreign language,” Megan says. “Because Cincinnati Children's is such a global provider of children's medical care, I feel having worked with children and being able to speak French made me a very unique fit for my current position.”
She was delighted when she discovered that she could incorporate speaking French with her role as a CST.
“I really feel like I found the best of both worlds,” Megan says. “I love surgery and I love French. I was afraid I was going to have to give up my French but when I landed a job at Cincinnati Children's, I realized that there were so many opportunities for me and that I did not have to limit myself to one career path.”
During her undergrad, Megan studied art, architecture, theater, French language and literature. She hoped that studying in France would help her become truly fluent in the language, as well as get a better understanding of cultural norms.
“The French speaking world is huge and within that world there are many different dialects of French—regional dialects and accents may be a hurdle,” Megan says. “Not every family and patient gets good news. So knowing how to culturally convey a difficult message may be a challenge.”
NKU prepared Megan to step quickly into French-speaking conversations with conversation hours (2 p.m.–3 p.m. every Monday) as well as the time she spent studying in Paris.
“Getting the extra practice in every day conversation helped me to be able to function when I studied abroad,” said Megan. “I plan on attending conversation hour to practice my French so that I can get back to the level of speaking that I was at when I first came home from France.”
Megan attributes much of her success at NKU and her career to the support of her professors—in particular, Dr. Katherine Kurk.
“She was the first person that really made me feel like that I could master the language,” Megan says. “She had unwavering faith in my ability to succeed. She was and still is constantly throwing opportunities and accolades my way. For that, I am very touched and extremely grateful.”
Dr. Kurk remembers Megan, too. When Megan started teaching in Indiana, Dr. Kurk visited her classes and could see that the students loved Megan’s class.
“Megan was an outstanding student, very detail-driven and precise but also with a big heart,” Kurk says. “I was not at all surprised that she made the switch from one ‘caring job’ to another.”
By becoming a medically licensed translator, Megan hopes she can further ensure the safety and well being of her patients. It’s one more way she can help the patient and his or her family have a positive experience at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
“In surgery, the staff has to distance themselves from their emotions in order to do their jobs, but care enough about that patient to uphold the high standards of the OR,” Megan says. “It's a very fine line.”
Dr. Kurk says that Megan is just the person to walk that line. “I can just imagine that the little boy who opened his eyes to her in the hospital knew that he had a friend, and that he would be okay. What a comfort for a child in a foreign country.”