KGH Interpretation is a one-woman medical & mental health Spanish-English interpreting operation run by Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez.
My name is Kelly (Grzech) Henriquez and I am a dual-certified Spanish medical/healthcare interpreter working in and around the city of Richmond, Virginia. I have been working as an interpreter since 2016 but have been speaking Spanish and working in the Hispanic community for over 10 years.
My journey with Spanish began in Reston, Virginia, working in the food service industry. For about 5 years, I found myself intermittently put in charge of majority Spanish-speaking kitchens, and expected to “make it work.” I only had a cursory knowledge of Spanish from a few classes in high school. I did, however, have a significantly more solid foundation in French that enabled me to learn about and grasp new concepts relatively quickly and easily in Spanish. Because I was often the only employee who spoke English, I was always the go-between, whether it be between my coworkers and customers, or serving as an intermediary for my monolingual English-speaking bosses. Before I knew it, I was one of few English-speakers living in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, speaking subpar Spanish and overseeing a restaurant kitchen as a catering coordinator and food safety manager.
All my coworkers (all from Central America) had at one point in time tried to learn English. The majority of my coworkers hadn’t graduated middle school. They came to the United States out of economic necessity or to escape violent regimes and often worked 60-70 hours a week. It was completely unreasonable to expect them to suddenly learn English for my comfort and convenience, so I doubled down on my efforts to speak more Spanish. I made many friends who welcomed me with open arms for trying to bridge our mutual communication gap. So many people I encountered were so grateful for my efforts to learn to speak Spanish because they were accustomed to people judging them for not being able to speak English. The love I felt from the local Hispanic community only fostered my love for the language and the community as a whole.
College & Discovering Interpretation
In 2011, my life was turned upside-down by an unexpected 3-day hospital stay, and I was forced fairly quickly thereafter to relocate to Richmond, Virginia. I missed my adoptive community and wanted to make a difference, having gained a privileged inside look at their lives. I knew my Spanish had its limitations, so I decided to apply to Virginia Commonwealth University and study Spanish and social work. I was determined to be a Spanish-speaking social worker.
I discovered in my second year at VCU that I wasn’t allowed to double-major with social work. I had reached a fork in the road: speak Spanish or be a social worker? It was a no-brainer for me and I chose Spanish, hoping another opportunity would come along that would utilize my language skills. It was in my junior year at VCU that I learned about the SETI (Spanish-English Translation and Interpretation) program. I thought if I couldn’t specialize in a field that would utilize my Spanish, at the very least I could take my Spanish to the next level.
Little did I know I would love translation, and I convinced myself that I was going to be a professional translator. Come my senior year, I was dreading my SETI internship, knowing I would have to delve into interpretation. I had only seen my incredibly talented professor (with her federal legal interpretation certification) interpret in the courtroom, and I was intimidated by it. I was hit by pangs of anxiety, but the day finally came when I had my internship at a local safety net clinic. Legal interpretation just wasn’t for me, and I gravitated towards the other area of specialty within my program: medical interpretation. Once I went into the room with a patient and began interpreting, I immediately fell into a rhythm and realized, if anything, I was overprepared. I loved it. I was hooked.
I graduated in December 2016 from Virginia Commonwealth University with my BA in Foreign Language, Concentration in Spanish, summa cum laude, from the honors college, having minored in Latin American studies and successfully completing the SETI program. I was determined to keep my interpreting and Spanish skills fresh during my job search, so I continued volunteering at the safety net clinic I had done my internship at while working at my retail job I had in college.
In February of 2017, I began work as a bilingual patient advocate at the clinic. Conservative estimates put our Spanish-speaking patients at 80% of our patient population, but in my daily interactions I estimated it to be closer to 90%. My job duties included that of a receptionist, diagnostic imaging coordinator, referral coordinator, interpreter, and sometimes even tech support. It was a highly demanding job that took a toll on me emotionally and physically, and for the first time in my life I felt I wasn’t cut out for something or even up to the challenge. I did my best for close to two years, long after I had already burnt out, motivated entirely by the fact that the clinic was providing much-needed services to marginalized communities. I ended up finding myself reveling in the moments I would be able to interpret for patients, realizing that it was my true passion, and decided to leave the clinic and embark on my journey as an independent contractor interpreter in May of 2017.
Working for Myself as an Interpreter
Even though work was slow at first and I had to return to my college retail job, I entered easily into the happiest period of my life. I obtained my NBCMI (National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters) certification in medical interpreting (CMI-Spanish) in January of 2019. Around the same time, I landed a position with VCU’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health as an interpreter at their teaching clinic once a week. One year and two months after beginning my journey as an interpreter, when I first wrote these words on this page, I entered into a full-time career as a contract medical interpreter.
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