As medical interpreters, we are never alone. We need at least one provider and one patient involved for us to do our job.
But then again, as interpreters, we are always alone. Providers often work as a team, making treatment decisions as a team. And patients may bring family members and decide treatment options as a family.
But, aside from some unusual exceptions, we are always alone. We could be physically surrounded by a bunch of people – a group of providers, a patient with their family members – but we stand alone.
Our work decisions – how we interpret what was just said – is a split second decision made entirely in our head. We don’t turn to a coworker after every sentence and discuss how we should interpret what the doctor just said. The decision is up to us and up to us alone.
Of course we – belonging to a department with one of the country’s leading medical interpreter training programs – we have been given the knowledge and proper training to be able to make the right decisions when we are out there in the field all by ourselves. We study and practice so that we can make those split second decisions by ourselves.
But because we are trained and are confident in our abilities and can function so well alone out there at our appointments, it is easy for us to forget that we do belong to a department with other staff and coworkers.
Yes, you are sent out to the appointment all alone, but we never want you to feel alone. We never want you to forget that you are one of us – a crucial member of our team.
And “team” is the word often forgotten. Team is the word I want to remind you of today.
Our department has progressed and changed so each of you can have a role and a voice as a team member of Community Programs and Services – so you can be an active team member of the Interpreter Services Program. In recent years, we have seen great changes in our department because we have seen changes in you and how you participate and interact with the department.
Now, I would like to urge you to move a little more forward and ask you to actively participate and communicate as a vital team member of your language group.
How often do you speak to your fellow interpreters in your language group? Sure we all have different lives and responsibilities and meeting face-to-face may not always be possible. But email can be a very useful, effective, and time-saving communication tool.
Say a patient comes in to the Emergency Department and gets admitted. You know that somebody will be called to interpret for the patient the next day, and you know you’re not available. Why don’t you email your team to give them a heads-up? Of course, you cannot share patient detail to the whole group, and the whole group doesn’t need to know the details. You don’t have to write a novella about how the patient was injured and how the patient was feeling, etc., but just a few words like “hey, a little heads-up. We have a patient in 8C. They may schedule a test tomorrow. They will need an interpreter at some point. Let me know if you need more information.”
Although we don’t need to know the patient history, the fact that there is an inpatient – the fact that one of the interpreters will have to go interpret – is very useful information to know. We can all be prepared. We can all work to ensure smooth patient care.
To provide the best and continuous service to our patients, we urge you to start thinking about your team and to start communicating with your language group.
Are you attending a staff meeting? Talk to your team so you can ensure someone will be available to cover appointments. Planning a vacation? Talk to your team and see if it won’t cause too much damage for you to be unavailable for an extended period of time. For example, “I’m thinking about going to Fiji sometime around October. Any conflicts? I have a few weeks of flexibility but I need to be back by October 25.” And someone else might say “I’m unavailable the first week of October, so if you can stay and work that week that’ll be great.” And now you know that if you take a vacation the first week of October there will be two interpreters gone. If you can, why don’t you try to avoid vacation that week so you can work and cover any appointments.
And sometimes you may have to juggle your schedules and make compromises. Holidays, for example. Of course you want to spend the holiday with your family, but guess what – we all have family. Don’t disappear each and every holiday because guess again, someone has to stay and interpret. Talk to each other. Compromise. Take turns.
When there is an event at the office – meeting, in-service, class – talk to each other and take turns so we can all attend them at some point. Take turns. If one month you attended an in-service and your colleague covered appointments for you, then the next month why don’t you let your colleague attend in-service and you cover the appointments. We all want to participate, and the department wants you to participate as well. But for everyone to participate someone has to be “not participating” in order to cover appointments and interpret. So, take turns “not participating” so we can all participate at one point.
Because at the end of the day it’s about the appointments – it’s about patient care. We went through Bridging the Gap and we continue to take trainings so we can be there for our patients and for this great hospital which strives for the best patient care.
And in order for all of us to be there for our patients and providers – although physically alone we may be in that exam room – we need to work as a team. Remember that you are never really alone when we can establish good communication among us. You are never alone when you are part of a team. Let us be a great medical interpreter team.