Speaking our clients’ language

Greek Bilingual Client Contact Officer Sophie Lekkas with Barbara Amalberti, former Italian Bilingual Client Contact Officer.

This World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, BreastScreen Victoria celebrates the achievements of our project ‘Reengaging Overdue Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Clients’, which works to improve access to the breast screen program. 

The United Nations General Assembly declared World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development in 2002. Held every year on 21 May, it aims to celebrate diverse cultures around the world and highlight the importance of multi-cultural collaboration.

At BreastScreen Victoria, we share these values and reflect them in all parts of our program—from the moment we invite someone to screen to the delivery of their results—and they’re the central focus of our project, ‘Reengaging Overdue Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Clients’.

The project is funded by the Victorian State Government Department of Health and began in 2021. It aims to engage eligible people who speak a language other than English and have not returned for a breast screen for more than two years in their mother tongue. 

We developed a range of activities in consultation with our team of bilingual health promotion officers and were informed by the success of previous re-engagement work. These included in-language text messages, phone calls and culturally safe group screening sessions to re-connect with these clients and encourage them to book their breast screen. 

In the first year of the project, the team:

  • Sent 3,294 text message reminders in 12 languages
  • Attempted 1,952 phone calls in five languages—1,238 of which were answered by clients
  • Held 11 group screening sessions in Mandarin, Arabic and Vietnamese with in-person interpreters present
  • Shared translated information about bowel and cervical cancer to all contacted clients

Sophie Lekkas, our Greek Bilingual Client Contact Officer, believes that projects like this one are important because they address one of the most significant barriers to health care in Australia: language. 

“Often, people with limited English rely on friends and family to book their appointments, but they think they are placing a burden on their loved ones. Hence, they may be overdue for their breast screen,” said Sophie. “When we communicate with them in their language, they are comfortable and appreciative of the service, and most are happy to book an appointment on the spot.”

“It reassures them that their health is equally as important as people whose first language is English,” she said. 

Survey responses from those contacted during the project support Sophie’s insights, with 100% of clients reporting they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ with the in-language contact they received, the in-person interpreter and the overall service provided by BreastScreen Victoria.

Vietnamese Bilingual Client Contact Officer, Mai Nguyen.

Our Vietnamese-speaking Bilingual Client Contact Officer, Mai Nguyen, shares these sentiments. 

“Clients are very happy when I talk directly to them in their mother language, Vietnamese,” she said. “They are always thankful when I arrange their breast screen—especially if they haven’t had a chance to book for a reason such as a language barrier. It makes my work so meaningful,” Mai added. 

Not only does the project work to connect people with our life-saving service, but it also creates connections between our staff and the community.

Sophie fondly shared the story of one client she met last year while making calls in Greek. 

“The lady shared that she had recently lost her husband and struggled to look after herself,” she said. “We had a conversation about breast screening, and I explained how important it is that she takes care of her health. She was so happy that I made her feel comfortable and booked an appointment for her. When the lockdown was over, she invited me to her house for a coffee to show me around her lovely garden.”

“Her highlight was just having someone to talk to that cared about her,” said Sophie. 

Thanks to the project’s positive impacts in its first year, it has recently been re-funded for 2022-2023 and expanded across the state. Community Engagement Coordinator Jessica Elsworth is excited about the next phase.

“We’re very pleased the project has been re-funded to reach culturally and linguistically diverse clients who are overdue for their breast screen in their language. This means we can continue supporting clients to attend their regular breast screen by providing in-language assistance.”