Student is standout volunteer

UMSL student Brett Zorbell volunteers as a Spanish-speaking medical translator at Casa de Salud in St. Louis. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Learning to speak a second language is no easy task, and learning medical jargon in a foreign language takes the difficultly level up a notch.

Brett Zorbell, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, has volunteered as a medical translator at Casa de Salud in St. Louis. since January 2011. The center provides low-cost health care to uninsured and underinsured Latin immigrants.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Zorbell said.

His job is to explain to the patient in Spanish what the doctor is saying. While his vocabulary has expanded, he’s still learning.

“Every once in a while we’ll have to look up something in a medical dictionary,” he said.

Zorbell took some Spanish classes in high school, but his knowledge was fairly limited.

“I think I learned how to say table,” he said. “The basic stuff, like ‘how are you?’’’

He learned the bulk of his Spanish while doing volunteer missionary work in Guatemala. When he’s speaking to people at Casa de Salud, Spanish just comes to him.

“For the most part it just kind of flows naturally,” said Zorbell, who added that his services are very welcomed and appreciated at the center by the non-Spanish speaking physicians. “A language, you have to use it or you lose it.”

By some of the feedback he’s gotten, it’s clear Zorbell’s Spanish skills are superb.

“A lot of people who I will talk to in Spanish ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from the United States, they’re surprised. They think I’m actually from Latin America,” Zorbell said.

In August, he starts dental school at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Down the line he’d like to own his own business. But he’d still like to volunteer in some capacity.

“There are lots of clinics where dentists can volunteer their time.”


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