Medical Interpreter

6 Helpful Tips For a Medical Interpreter

The Importance of a Medical Interpreter

Hospitals and doctor’s offices are becoming more and more aware in the importance of having a medical interpreter available or on staff. A medical interpreter’s presence is really invaluable when treating patients with a limited English proficiency (LEP). The need for medical interpreters has become a must for medical providers now more than ever before. In the article, “The Affordable Care Act and the Need for a Professional Interpreting Agency,” we reviewed the impact of the new laws passed under the Affordable Care Act, Section 1557, and their immediate effect on medical providers who are now required to provide quality interpreters and information, free of charge and in a timely manner to better treat LEP individuals. This means that there will be an increased need for medical interpreters.

The job of a medical interpreter is to facilitate communication between medical professionals and patients, due to the presence of a language barrier. To simplify it, the medical interpreter will listen to the patient and interpret to the doctor what the patient said and then will listen to the doctor and interpret to the patient what the doctor said. Medical interpreters can work at hospitals, doctor’s offices, mental health facilities, rehabilitation centers or nursing homes, just to name a few. When it comes to healthcare, the most important factor in diagnosing and treating a patient is the communication between the doctor and patient, this is where all the important information is gathered. The doctor needs to know all of the aches and pains that the patient is feeling, any past illnesses or family history along with many other important pieces of information in order to accurately diagnose and treat the patient. How can successful healthcare be provided if there is a language barrier that prevents accurate information from being conveyed. This is why there is such a need for qualified medical interpreters in our communities today. The occupation of a medical interpreter can be very demanding given the circumstances or feelings involved. There are many tips that can help a medical interpreter complete their job successfully. Here is a list comprised of 6 tips that will help medical interpreters ensure an accurate and professional medical interpretation on every level.

#1. Medical Interpreters Should Be Culturally Competent

A wonderful way to really prepare yourself to work as a medical interpreter or as an interpreter of any sort is to take advantage of study abroad programs that are offered in high schools as well as at universities and as part of degree programs. Study abroad opportunities allow you to immerse yourself in the culture of the second language that you are learning. This will allow you to not only broaden your speaking skills but it also provides you the opportunity to learn about the culture, history and customs that accompany the language that you are becoming proficient in. Living in the country in which you are learning the language will put you leaps and bounds ahead of the competition because you are learning proficiency in that language on all accords. Once you are completely proficient in the language then your job of interpretation is made easier because you can relate and understand both languages and their corresponding cultures equally.

#2. Continuous Learning and Expanding Your Vocabulary

Once your formal education has been completed, you must continue learning and feeding yourself knowledge to work as a medical interpreter. You will be interpreting for many different scenarios and people and you want to at least be aware of the fundamentals of the topic you are discussing. As a medical interpreter it is a great quality to have a basic knowledge of all trades. Having a little bit of knowledge on many topics can help you with terminology, concepts and various other aspects that can play a role in you delivering an accurate and successful interpretation. As a medical interpreter you can regularly read up to date articles on science, current medicines, procedures as well as many other interesting and modern topics in order to stay current on subjects that may come up while you are conducting a medical interpretation. It is also important as a medical interpreter to read information in both languages that you speak.This will allow you to stay current on trends, slang and various other social facets that could come into play while you’re working as a medical interpreter.

#3. Develop Amazing Note Taking Skills

Consecutive interpretation is the type of interpretation that is normally conducted in a medical setting. This is where the interpreter listens to the speaker in the source language until they are finished speaking and then interprets their message into the target language for the other person to understand. The conversation is normally divided into small segments consisting of around 2 or 3 sentences allowing the interpreter time to interpret back and forth between the parties involved. Developing a great set of note taking skills can really aid you in medical interpreting. It is not necessary to write down every little piece of information coming out of a person’s mouth, you just want reminders or bullets that can help with remembering difficult terminology, medications, dates, times and phone numbers. Due to the fact that you are writing so rapidly you will need to create your own abbreviations and shortcuts that make sense to you. Be sure you are fully aware of your own abbreviations, it would be very embarrassing to not understand your own notes. There are many abbreviations and acronyms already established in the medical industry for medications and procedures for you to use as well. Note taking can be very beneficial for a medical interpreter due to the nature of the industry and the difficult terminology.

#4. Be Prepared for your Medical Interpretation and Ask For a Pre Session

As a medical interpreter, a lot of the jobs that you will work will be pre-set appointments. This gives you a great advantage in preparing yourself for the interpretation. Once you have arrived at the appointment ask the medical professional if they have time for a pre session. A quick word between the medical professional and the interpreter can allow you to introduce yourself and give you the opportunity to ask what topics will be discussed before getting started. A pre session can ensure that both individuals are on the same page before entering the appointment. You know which medical facility you will be interpreting at, so with that knowledge you can take the initiative to look up information online that can help you prepare for your medical interpretation. For example, you have been hired to conduct a medical interpretation at a cardiologists office, look up reasons in which visit a cardiologist office or terminology a cardiologist uses. This is a simple a fast way to brush up on terminology and prepare yourself for a medical interpretation.

#5. Interpret Exactly What You Hear and Remain Professional

Working as a medical interpreter you will need to make sure that you are interpreting exactly what you hear and not adding or omitting any word, feeling or nuance provided by the speaker no matter what is being said. It is your job to ensure that you are accurately conveying the message that is being delivered by the patient as well as the medical professional. There will be times throughout your career as a medical interpreter that you will be faced with interpreting for a person that is saying harsh, rude or explicit things and you will have to interpret exactly what you hear. It is not your job to censor or dilute what is being said to make it polite or professional. Your job is strictly to interpret so refrain from adding your opinion, sugar coating what someone is saying or having any side conversations, these additions can only muddy the accuracy of the interpretation at hand. Medical settings can be very delicate environments, staying professional, interpreting only what you hear and focusing on the topic at hand can help to ensure a successful and accurate medical interpretation.

#6. Have Patience and Empathy

While working as a medical interpreter, there will be many times that you will be placed in situations where emotions may be high, shock is involved, a patient is in pain, anger over takes the patient or many other countless emotional scenarios take place. You have to remember to pull your thoughts and emotions out of the situation and only interpret what the patient is saying, you are there to interpret. They need you to convey their message in order to be treated. You are acting as their voice. There may be a multitude of questions or the patient may not understand and need additional information in order to grasp what is going on, do not get frustrated or anxious, just remember you are there to help facilitate communication that will in turn help to treat a patient. Remember people are scared when they are faced with medical situations, imagine being faced with that situation and not being able to understand the doctor that is treating you and possibly being in a foreign country where your friends and family members are not there to provide support or console you. Try to be considerate and have patience during the interpretation, it is important that you have understanding as to where they are coming from and what emotions they may be feeling so you can accurately interpret for them.

Niki’s Int’l Ltd. is a WBENC-Certified Women Business Enterprise with 20 years of language service experience. A global network of highly skilled medical interpreters are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for on-site, telephonic and video remote interpretation services. Our linguists are available in over 350 languages and dialects, and our network includes medical interpreters and medical document translators. Our work is guaranteed with a $1 Million Errors & Omissions policy, so that you can be confident that your project will be completed with the highest level of quality and professionalism within the field. For more information contact us at 1-877-567-8449 or visit our website at

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