Interpreters are not robots, and they do not interpret for robots. They are people who interpret for other people, and for better or worse, those other people are assessing their experience with you based on more than your ability to interpret with skill and precision.
The impression you leave on someone can have a lasting effect for you as an individual and, in some cases, for interpreters as a whole.
Here are four ways medical interpreters can make a bad impression. (It is my most sincere wish that you avoid all of them.)
Talk trash about others.
Even if your complaints are legitimate (Those other interpreters are terrible. I hate the parking at this hospital. This pager is so annoying.), slinging mud about other people or organizations just leaves you covered in dung. If there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, do so at the right time, in the right place, with the right person. Hint: The hospital cafeteria is not the right place.
Whine about your bad day.
It’s pretty safe to assume that everyone you encounter is dealing with some unfortunate or downright tragic event in their professional or personal life. Avoid adding to the troubles of others by complaining about your own. Unless it is relevant information to share (Was that the patient’s tummy that just grumbled? Nope, it was the interpreter’s.), there’s no need to bring it up. An ER doctor once shared that no matter how bad his day is going, at least he’s not the one stretched out on the gurney. Good point, Doc.
Waste other people’s time.
There’s a bunch of ways to accomplish this. I’ll just name three.
- Be inefficient. For example, when checking in for an assignment, make the registrar wait while you look up the appointment information instead of having it in hand.
- Chat up a storm with the nurses. Exchanging pleasantries is wonderful. Chatting a nurse’s ear off for 30 minutes is not. Unless you both happen to be on a lunch break, the nurse has other things to do.
- Relentlessly verify all information multiple times. This is a tricky one because it is important to have the correct information, and double-checking can avert disasters down the road. However, if you’re verifying information that you absolutely know is correct just for the sake of verifying it, you’re probably wasting someone’s time.
A lot has already been said on this topic (A web search for “medical interpreter tardiness” will give you plenty of reading material.), but it still seems relevant to include here. Think of your interpreting assignments more like a flight you need to catch and less like a barbecue at the neighbor’s house. Could something beyond your control cause you to miss the flight? Sure. But, I bet you’d get really creative in your efforts to make it on time. If you can make it on time for your international flight, you can make it on time for the pediatric assignment.
What other ways do interpreters make a bad impression? Share your comments, and together, let's all avoid leaving bad impressions!
Interested in developing strategies to make a good impression? Sign up for How May I Help You?, an online continuing education course for medical interpreters.