August 31, 2023

Volunteer Spotlight: Victor Karwacinski (Polish Interpreter of the Year in 2022)

CommunityHealth shines the Volunteer Spotlight on Victor Karwacinski during August.

Victor has been volunteering with CommunityHealth for three years, serving as a Polish interpreter and Trainer for other interpreters onboarding with our clinic. His passion for care based in cultural competency inspired him to co-found the Volunteer Engagement Club, leading our community of multilingual health care providers and ensuring proper representation in our service. 

Victor won Polish Interpreter Clinic Volunteer of the Year in 2022.

We sat down with him to learn more about how he practices Quality Health Care for All…

In a few sentences, tell us more about yourself and your background.

“I began volunteering as a Polish interpreter in September 2020. Since then, I’ve had the honor of co-founding our Volunteer Engagement Club, and I also began assisting with onboarding sessions as a Trainer! Outside of CommunityHealth, I graduated from Loyola University Chicago in May with degrees in Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Biology, and Psychology, and I will be spending the upcoming year continuing a research project on glioblastoma at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Without a doubt, volunteering at CommunityHealth has been a highlight of mine as I navigated the transitions of my early adulthood. It’s truly become a little ‘home’ of mine in Chicago that I am so incredibly grateful to identify myself with.

What is your favorite memory from your time with CommunityHealth?

Hmm…it’s hard to pick just one, but I’d have to say the yearly Volunteer Holiday Party! As all the volunteers gather together, we celebrate milestones, accomplishments, and new initiatives of the past year. Throughout the laughter and camaraderie (and a few heartfelt tears), it’s nice to be reminded of the impact our unity has in providing access to healthcare. To me, the space represents a pipeline of some of the most empathy-driven, authentic, and dedicated individuals I have met, and it becomes a source of invigorating inspiration as we move into the next year.

Why and how did you begin volunteering with CommunityHealth?

After moving to Chicago to pursue my undergraduate studies, I wanted to direct my energy toward something meaningful. I learned of CommunityHealth through the Polish Students Alliance at my school, and it quickly became the answer I was looking for (and SO much more). Being away from my family, CommunityHealth became a cornerstone of stability as I transitioned into college. It allowed me to invest time into a mission that I felt intimately passionate about, while also curing my nostalgia by letting me stay connected with my Polish heritage. The palpable sense of community was both comforting and energizing, and truthfully, my volunteer shifts became something that I eagerly looked forward to at the end of a long day!

What advice would you give to a new volunteer at Community Health?

Be patient with yourself! Healthcare involves some of the most delicate, complex, and sensitive areas of one’s life, so it’s natural to feel a heightened sense of accountability. With time, you will grow more comfortable in the position. Always remember the core mission – ensuring equitable and effective healthcare delivery!

What has kept you volunteering all this time?

The sense of unity throughout the clinic is a refreshing reminder of our shared humanity. My most treasured moments from volunteering have been those when I see the relief in someone’s eyes at the end of a visit. These moments are more rewarding than any accolade I could receive, and they reinforce my commitment to why I volunteer. By simply mitigating a language barrier, I can connect patients with a wealth of knowledge from medical professionals to effectively address their concerns, alleviate their worries, and provide them with a sense of assurance that they are receiving quality care.

What is something you have learned while volunteering with CommunityHealth?

I gained an appreciation for multidisciplinary collaboration in healthcare. Throughout my time at CommunityHealth, I’ve interacted with a wide variety of professionals, including physicians, nurses, technicians, social workers, educators, and administrative staff. Personally, I’ve seen how interpreters are critical for connecting a patient’s needs with a provider’s years of knowledge and training. As I became more involved at CommunityHealth, I saw how this same framework extends throughout the clinic’s staff. Each role showcases a unique expertise that only reaches its fullest potential through collaboration.

What has been your biggest takeaway from your time with CommunityHealth, and how does this impact your other life or career goals?

Prior to volunteering at CommunityHealth, I thought “interpreting” and “translating” were interchangeable. Once I started volunteering, I learned that translation is simply the expression of words from one language to another, like when we use Google Translate. Interpretation goes far beyond translation. In addition to the vocabulary, interpretation involves accurate mirroring of prosody, including volume, rate, cadence, and intonation – something Google Translate can’t accomplish. Collectively, these facets of speech provide a richness of context to an individual’s communication. By becoming more aware of this, I’ve been able to strengthen my own communication – a skill that transfers to all areas of my life where I communicate with others.

How has working with CommunityHealth influenced your perception of health care?

“My time at CommunityHealth has undoubtedly played a significant role in shaping my perception of healthcare. Prior to joining the clinic, my understanding was more on the theoretical side – maybe even somewhat detached. Quickly, though, my involvement gave me more personal and meaningful insights into the nuances of healthcare delivery.

But perhaps most importantly, volunteering has instilled in me a sense of excitement, optimism, and hope. Despite the challenges and complexities of healthcare, I’ve seen the incredible difference that dedicated individuals and organizations like CommunityHealth can make. Bearing witness to this has taught me lessons that go far beyond medical interpretation; they’ve shaped my worldview, confirmed my career aspirations, and inspired me to continue advocating for equitable, quality healthcare.”

What does being a health care professional mean to you?

After witnessing the struggles that non-English speaking patients face in accessing healthcare, I saw how alleviating a language barrier allowed Polish patients to feel recognized, their concerns prioritized, and their emotions validated. By providing this bridge of understanding, they are instilled with their deserving sense of dignity and respect. Seeing the resulting trust that grows between patients and providers underscored the importance of communication in healthcare. If a patient, no matter their language, doesn’t feel like they are being listened to, a lack of trust leads to compromised care. It is the duty of a healthcare professional to recognize the vulnerability of a patient, actively encouraging a trusting relationship with them to ensure they provide the best care possible.

Why is volunteering important to you?  What do you get out of it?

“The fact that my bilingualism, something I often took for granted, has the ability to bridge access to healthcare for so many people is something that constantly inspires me. With this skill, it almost seems disingenuous not to put it to good use. My role is not simply about interpreting words for patients and providers; it’s about understanding people’s emotions and advocating for their needs. Each interaction becomes an opportunity for a sense of connection, a chance to learn, and an avenue for personal growth.”

Do you have any special talents or skills you would like to share?

Well, I do pride myself in being the reigning champion of my friend group for ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,’ a game based on the principle of six degrees of separation. Give me the names of any two celebrities, and I’ll find a way to link them together in six or fewer acquaintances!

Outside of volunteering with CommunityHealth, how do you spend your free time?

I love spending time outside! My favorite pastimes include skiing, hiking, and swimming.

What is your favorite book or movie?

One of my all-time favorite books has to be ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R Tolkien. The adventure-filled tale explores themes of friendship, personal growth, and the power of imagination that have continued to resonate with me into adulthood.

What is something about you that others wouldn’t expect?

Although I come across as a bit shy and soft-spoken in social settings, I’m an absolute thrill-seeker at heart. Few people know that I’ve gone skydiving (and loved it!), I can’t resist a roller coaster – the bigger and faster, the better. To me, life is all about balance!

Health care providers like Victorthat prioritize Quality Health Care for All are what makes CommunityHealth More than a Free Clinic.

Help us lead the fight for access and apply to join our network of volunteers working to ensure every Chicagoan has access to the right health care, at the right time, in the right place!