Anita LaPlaca has a specialty niche in the health-care industry - a medical Spanish interpreter who aids communications between Spanish-speaking patients and doctors at Rainbow Pediatrics at the practice's Rio Grande, Middle Township facility.

Formerly working as a registered nurse, LaPlaca got into the interpreter specialty 14 years ago after working at a North Carolina clinic for migrant farmworkers.

She then worked at Duke University for nine years as a medical interpreter.

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LaPlaca said the position differs from that of a translator and involves boiling down medical terms.

"What is a cardiac catheterization, what is a stroke really, what is a biopsy? People don't understand these words - sometimes they've never even heard them. It's confusing in English and more so in Spanish with a language barrier," said LaPlaca, of Cape May Point.

LaPlaca said her job has several important roles - to be the voice for patients who cannot express themselves, to accurately communicate between patients and health-care providers, and to be a cultural broker to understand religious and cultural beliefs.

LaPlaca started working for Rainbow Pediatrics in 2012 after moving back to New Jersey.

The pediatrics practice - which has locations in Middle Township, Dennis Township and Egg Harbor Township - opened its office in Rio Grande several years ago and noticed a growing need in the area, said Dr. Tom Dierkes, a pediatrician and one of the owners of Rainbow Pediatrics.

That office serves much of the lower portion of Cape May County, including Wildwood, which has a large Hispanic population.

In Wildwood, about 22 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.

Dierkes said the medical Spanish interpreter has proven popular, even more than he expected, and it has helped the office add patients.

"The initial response was from the physicians in the practice who particularly liked it. They noticed it right away. Afterwards it came from the patients. We started to get more people coming in from the Spanish population," he said.

Dierkes estimates about 5 percent of the practice's patients use LaPlaca's services. He said the practice started with her working three days per week, and that has grown into four days per week.

"Most people think when you come in you just need a translate, but there is a difference with a medical interpreter and how they translate getting the point across and the current medical terminology," he said.

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