Lindsey Lopez ’10
Nurse and medical interpreter, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Lindsey Lopez

Language bridge

As a PRN (on-call) medical interpreter for Sanford Health, Lindsey accompanies Spanish-speaking patients and their families throughout the hospital—from the ER and radiology to therapy sessions and labor and delivery. She’s there to interpret and at times to serve as an adviser, informing staff about the cultural nuances that may affect the messages they’re hearing. Lindsey is also a nurse in Sanford's heart screening department, and she makes calls to Spanish-speaking women who are due for preventative cancer screenings.

What convinced you Northwestern was the right college for you?

I knew I wanted to be part of a campus with a high sense of community. I also wanted a college focused on service-learning that offered a Christ-centered education. The tipping point was when my brother would come home from Northwestern and share about the great experiences he was having and the wonderful classes he was taking. There’s definitely a vigorous academic environment at Northwestern, but it’s also a place where upperclassmen are willing to invest in underclassmen. I had a lot of mentors and met regularly with juniors and seniors when I was a freshman and sophomore.

Studying abroad is a requirement for a Spanish major at Northwestern. Where did you spend your semester abroad?

I participated in the Latin American Studies Program through the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. I spent four months in Costa Rica and also visited Nicaragua and Cuba. I lived with host families, and they were so hospitable, warm and loving. After that I knew I wanted to work with a Hispanic population. Since I felt so accepted and well-received and loved there, I wanted to be that for Hispanics here. And when I came back, I definitely felt a lot more confident in my language skills—because until you’re immersed, you’re not forced to think and speak in that language. It’s a really challenging but beautiful experience.

What do you love most about your job?

Seeing the relief, comfort and clarity wash over faces of the patients and their families when they hear and understand an important message about their health or their loved one’s health in their own language—and then seeing them able to respond and be heard. A hospital setting can be scary even for native English speakers. I like being that bridge that can connect people from different cultures and languages even to the point of being able to joke with one another.

How did Northwestern prepare you for your career?

Because Northwestern is a liberal arts college, you take classes from many different disciplines and learn to make connections and see how things are interrelated. As an interpreter, I always have to be expanding my knowledge beyond just language and grammar and conjugating verbs—because any topic that could come up in a conversation may need to be interpreted, and I need to at least understand the general context in order to interpret the meaning correctly. The college’s focus on service-learning and exploring cultural diversity also helped because my employer was looking not just for an interpreter, but also a cultural broker and educator to gently guide staff in improving their interactions with non-English speakers.

In what specific ways does Northwestern integrate faith and learning?

At Northwestern I discovered that my vocation involves all of my life. I was equipped with knowledge and tools, shown examples of committed Christians who are helping to advance the kingdom of God, and then given opportunities to get out and start serving and putting into practice what I learned. I was taught that as a Christian I’m called to play an active role in working for the biblical values of reconciliation, justice and peace. Even language learning is a means to those ends. I was challenged to respect the “other” as one made in God’s image and to be a blessing both as a stranger in other lands and as a host to those who come to our country.