Showcasing Our Role as Medical Interpreters

Showcasing Our Role as Medical Interpreters

I recently attended ASL Medical Interpreting – Basic Skills (recently renamed as Foundations of Medical Interpreting) – a two day course for Sign Language Interpreters. Although I am not an ASL interpreter and I have already taken a wonderful basic interpreting course (Bridging the Gap), I spent a few hours on the weekend and sat in. It was very much time well spent.

This two-day course covered a lot of information that is too much for me to write here (I highly recommend taking this class – there are 20 fresh graduates who will attest to the greatness of the class). The two presenters – Andi Chumley and Christa Moran – were great and, although it was more of refresher information for me, the material they prepared and their presentation were wonderful.

One thing that especially made an impression on me was this slide:

Foundations Slide

As you can see, it lists a bunch of providers the patient might see during their visit to the hospital and that we might interpret for during our encounter. But, in the middle of the list of providers you can see in red letters the word “interpreter.”

I think this really showcases our role as medical interpreters.

During an appointment, one minute we are interpreting the voice of the resident, and then the next minute we are interpreting the nurse, then our voice changes to the attending, then the tech, then maybe a house keeping staff, and then we switch back to interpreting for the resident.

Of course, during all of these interactions, we are also interpreting for the patient and/or their family member as well. But from the providers stand point we must sometimes be the voice of an angry doctor trying to set straight a patient who just won’t listen to his recommended treatment, and then another minute we might quickly switch to the voice of a soothing, calm, comforting nurse, then switch to a financial counselor from the billing department.

Many people unfamiliar with what a medical interpreter does may just think of the doctor and the patient, but we have to interpret much more than just those two. We have to be much more than that because a lot more people are involved in health care.

Medical interpreters must interpret for a variety of people. We are everyone in the hospital, without being anyone in particular.

In the providers list above, the interpreter is not listed because, in the best case scenario, we are invisible. We are not one of the providers. A medical appointment is about the provider and the patient and their interaction. The patient must truly feel that they are receiving the treatment from the doctor. The doctor must feel they are hearing the patient’s true voice. The nurse practitioner giving instruction to a patient must feel like they are teaching the patient, not the interpreter. The patient undergoing a test must feel they are interacting with the tech, not the interpreter.

In a best case scenario, the presence of an interpreter must not be felt. We the interpreter must not be there, but in reality we are everywhere and there for everyone.

A well-trained, skilled interpreter will become those red letters on the slide – yes, we are definitely there, but who does the patient see? Not us.


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