Brandon Walker

Brandon Walker: Dental Candidate, Marine, Active Participant in International Public Health Initiatives

A few members of the Canopy team have had the pleasure of speaking with Brandon Walker at different points over the last few months. Brandon has a particularly compelling way of verbalizing the importance of language services and his unique background and storytelling ability is compelling. Brandon also has an IT background, and has been an active contributing voice, offering insight into the functionality and design of the Canopy Medical Translator app. Below are Brandon's words: read on!


Today our planet is more diverse than ever. As healthcare professionals, we can expect to see an uptick in the need for language assistance for at least the next century, especially those who practice in urban settings or do healthcare work abroad. In an ideal world, every provider would have an interpreter on hand, but as our communities diversify and grow, this becomes both economically and logistically challenging.

My name is Brandon Walker and I am a 2016 dental student candidate. I have a B.S. in Public Health and stay active in my community by participating in various public health initiatives, including various Mission of Mercy and UNITED projects. From 2005-2014 I served in the U.S. Marines, during which I deployed three times for a total of one year to the southern Philippines where our primary focus was providing medical, dental, and veterinarian aid to a majority non-English speaking provincial populous. Our environmental constraints made these efforts quite challenging, but the language barriers were perhaps the most difficult to overcome. With the help of a tutor I quickly learned Tagalog and partial Tausug and became one of only two translators for our entire area of operation. Back then (2007-2009) smartphones were in their nascency and we did not have the luxury of apps like Canopy. If we did, we could have made a much larger impact.

I found out about Canopy through the ASDA on Facebook. I quickly downloaded the app to check it out and was super impressed. This is something I had been envisioning and seeking for a long time, and Canopy definitely delivered. I chuckle every time I look back on the numerous instances Canopy would have helped us better communicate and/or understand our patients and their needs both in the field overseas and even here in the United States. Shortly after I downloaded the app, I shared it with my mentor, Dr. Todd Beck, who is both a prominent dentist in Portland, Oregon and an Associate Professor at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Dentistry. He was floored by its capabilities and overly impressed with how the app puts providers just a click away from a real life translator.

Last last year I did three days of volunteer work as a student dental assistant during a Dental Mission of Mercy project in southern Maryland. We set up a stadium sized mobile dental clinic and served over 1,500 patients from the community, a vast number of which spoke little to no English. I remember like it was yesterday seating a visibly timid and anxious woman from Bolivia who had come to the clinic on her own in hopes of having her troubled wisdom teeth extracted. Using what little Spanish I remember from high school, I managed to get her name and reason for her visit, but was severely limited by my own inadequacies as well as our translator-to-patient ratio.

My prior experience both in the Philippines and in other clinical settings told me this woman was extremely nervous about the procedure she was about to endure, and that she likely felt very helpless in her inability to communicate that discomfort with me or the dentist. Of course, this is never a situation a patient should have to face, nor is it ever an obstacle a doctor aims to create for that patient. In the end, our lovely Bolivian-American patient received the care and treatment she needed, but we could have done better for her - I would have LIKED to have done better for her. I credit my previous training and experiences for helping me overcome the barriers to give her the comfort and assurance she needed to follow through with her treatment, but back then, had I the power of Canopy at my fingertips, we could have done better. I'm glad I don't have to worry about that happening again now that Canopy is on my phone.

I know from experience that patients needing interpretation services are generally relieved to be presented with an alternative to speaking (or trying to speak) English or any other primary or secondary language. Everyone I show the app to is blown away by its capabilities. I believe my Bolivian-American patient likely spoke english very well, but was too timid or nervous to try because she worried about making mistakes (I know I do when I try to speak Spanish). Speaking a different language with someone who is fluent in that language can be extremely intimidating.

I used to use categorized phrases and pre-written (likely) answers (think choose your own adventure style literature) to guide a patient through the diagnostic phase of their visit, but we always attempted to communicate verbally with the patient first before going down that route. In almost every case where verbal communication wasn't fruitful, I noticed a great deal of relief and excitedness in my patient's eyes when presented with phrases and answers written in their native language. The Canopy app is this concept on steroids. Not only can the patient read phrases, but they can hear them, and in the case where more effort might be necessary, they can also speak to a live translator. People are comfortable with familiarity. Language is familiar. Phones (in the modern world) are familiar. Canopy couples the two together for the perfect solution for healthcare focused language barriers.

Today our planet is more diverse than ever. As healthcare professionals, we can expect to see an uptick in the need for language assistance for at least the next century, especially those who practice in urban settings or do healthcare work abroad. There are many ways to overcome the challenges many healthcare providers might face with their patients, but Canopy seems to be the all-in-one solution. In an ideal world, every provider would have an interpreter on hand, but as our communities diversify and grow, this becomes both economically and logistically challenging. Canopy supports multiple languages and has the ability to connect providers to real-life interpreters, all from the palm of your hand. There's no better solution. Everyone should have this app, whether they think they need it or not.