Why Medical Interpreter Education is Key to Professionalization

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By Darien Mejia

Now at days becoming a certified interpreter is just the first step of professionalization. The true challenge is staying current to the ever changing treatments and discoveries that day to day the world of medicine faces. When we as interpreters take the time to prepare for our assignments, we are a step ahead of the game and we will be more confident of the words we will use as the session unfolds and we will increase the quality of our services. Education may take many forms: it is as basic as preparing for our assignments when we know ahead of time a little bit of what we are going to encounter. For example, if we know we will interpret for a Bone Marrow Transplant case, it will be very helpful to know some basic information about immunology, graft versus host disease and chemotherapy drugs side effects. Even though, we cannot be experts in everything it helps when we understand what are we talking about so that we can be better communicators. We may also be in situations when it is wiser to be humble and say “interpreter needs clarification” and ask the provider to explain the world we may not know, or to write it for us. We may be able to repeat it in the target language but still go to a good educational tool online to dig a bit more and learn the challenging world or concept in more depth in order to be able to learn it and use it better next time. It is also very useful to continue our education and attend workshops, conferences, and maybe going back to school to increase our medical vocabulary, anatomy, physiology or learn some Greek and Latin to be able to understand words roots of difficult words while interpreting. Something as simple as knowing that from Greek “ortho” means straight and “Optikas” means vision can helps us grasp the meaning of the word “orthoptics” which is the study or treatment of disorders of vision specific to the eye movements or eye alignment. What I love about being an interpreter is the fact that every day is an opportunity to learn and to grow. The more we educate ourselves the more we can help others one session at a time. It is a dynamic profession that demands the ability to detect when clarification is needed if the cultural or educational barriers of the person we are interpreting for are calling for a lower register, as well as the ability to identify when there is a word or term we could have used better, or we could write the difficult words or diagnosis for the patients to have an use in the future. In many instances there are words or acronyms that are used and the patients don’t ask the meaning, but it is important to break cultural/educational barriers and empower the patients with the knowledge that will help them receive better medical care. That is ultimately the goal of our profession.

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