Why Medical Interpreter Education is Key to Professionalization – Essay 9

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By Theresa M Heath, MS RID: CI, CT, ED: K-12, NIC-Master and SC: L

Interpreting is a young profession and for sign language interpreters lacked standardization until 1964. Over those five decades, interpreting has evolved and is now touted as a practice profession much like that of doctor, lawyer, or an accountant. New theories have been developed, ethics has become a focus within the profession, and new and improved best practices are published daily. Medical education is the key to professionalization for interpreters. In spite of the shift of interpreters becoming professionals, who sometimes hold advanced degrees, and become nationally certified, something is still lacking. Although interpreters have acquired multiple certifications, often one shows up to an assignment and continues to face attitudes and belief systems that one may have encountered twenty or even thirty years ago. To completely evolve into a practice profession, one must educate them fully in the venue where they are interpreting and nowhere is this more evident than the medical setting. One must become educated about body systems and human anatomy and know them well enough to be aware when they do not understand the source language and to ask intelligent clarifying questions to provide a comprehensive interpretation for the consumers involved in the assignment. One needs to become well versed on a variety of procedures and understand technical, medical vocabulary to ensure that consumers have equal access to information and to take college classes as well to show consumers that we are highly educated and qualified professionals. Cultural knowledge within the target group is important as well as one must be aware of the culture for both expressive and receptive discourse to be presented accurately. Mental health terminology is important to know and one should have an understanding of mental health disorders and accompanying symptoms that could possibly stymie a working interpreter on an assignment. Along with the mental health disorders, one must be aware of how to work with those individuals, the team approach that is most appropriate in the setting and a working knowledge of common medicines used in mental health interpreting settings. Mental Health Interpreter Training given by the Department of Mental Health in Alabama is highly recommended as it includes pharmacology, mental health disorders, demand-control schema, and how to recognize the difference and interpret appropriately for someone with cognitive disorders as well as mental health disorders. It behooves interpreters to also have a working knowledge of common medicines for medical disorders and a medical terminology workshop is beneficial for interpreting work in the medical settings. For the first time outside of the courtroom, the field is becoming collaborative between both foreign language and sign language interpreters and it can only serve to present us all in a more professional light. Regulations are dictating national certifications for the medical and mental health settings and with that national certification, one should present themselves in a manner that other professionals treat with respect and further understand that without the highly specialized medical professional to interpret for all parties that their work is negated and misunderstood by the linguistic minority speaker.

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