Essential Skills of a Medical Interpreter

It’s pretty obvious why every medical interpreter needs to be skilled; communicating correct symptoms to a doctor is imperative for appropriate treatment, and understanding a prescription is vital for the health of a patient. Without medical interpreters, health care would be much less effective and possibly dangerous.

A medical interpreter differs from a medical translator in that the work is oral rather than written and usually involves face-to-face interactions between patients and healthcare professionals. Some colleges and universities also offer medical interpreting certificate programs, which prepare interpreters to take the national certification exam.

But what are the basic skills needed for a career in medical interpreting?

The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care, the International Medical Interpreters Association and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, as well as many state organizations, provide standards of practice for individuals pursuing certification in medical interpreting. Here are some of the key skills they all emphasize:

1. Language and interpreting skills. A medical interpreter must have a high level of fluency for linguistic conversion. They also need to be able to quickly comprehend and re-express the message from the source language to the target language.

2. Understanding of medical terminology. Medical interpreting involves a thorough grasp of medical terms in both the source and target languages. Different specialties require even deeper levels of knowledge to express complex clinical information.

3. Cultural competence. Individuals in the field of medical interpreting must be comfortable with the cultural norms inherent in any native speaker’s country. Medical interpreting often involves very personal subjects, and navigating between cultural etiquette and sensitive topics can be a challenge. A medical interpreter must make the patient feel comfortable enough to honestly and accurately convey symptoms.

4. Code of ethics. Professional standards are upheld by codes of conduct put in place for professional medical interpreters. Interpreters must agree to guidelines such as keeping patients’ personal medical information confidential and remaining impartial. Failure to adhere to these codes could result in termination.

A career in medical interpreting can be rewarding and is extremely important to the health of individuals in need of interpreting at healthcare facilities. Possessing the above skills are essential to successfully helping others.

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