Collaboration: A Win-Win for Medical Interpreters and their Managers

This is the second in a series of posts for interpreter managers that covers six steps essential to creating a great place to work.  Collaboration is the first step in this process. 


Collaboration is a broad term that means "to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something" (Merriam-Webster). As managers, we need to deliver our product, which is to say language services, in a way that is value added for our customers, namely the healthcare providers and their support teams.  (Side note:  We believe that if you meet the needs of healthcare, then healthcare will take care of the patients.  The patients are healthcare’s customers.  Healthcare is your customer.)  

All too often medical interpreters find themselves operating as a lone wolf in the vast expanse of health care.  They jump from appointment to appointment, sometimes never seeing another interpreter for days or weeks.  This shouldn’t be the case.  Medical interpreters need colleagues to talk to that understand what they're going through. Empathy is not the same as sympathy.  

Collaboration eliminates this isolation and has additional benifits for interpreters.  First, it gives interpreters an opportunity to improve their mental health by sharing their war stories.  Second, it creates an environment of natural learning.  Third, it makes them feel like they’re a part of a team rather than being the random outlier in the medical department they’re working in. Last, but certainly not least, a benefit of creating a collaborative environment is that it gets rid of the lone wolf mentality.  Interpreters, especially those who work within the same department, should trust one another. They should be confident that their colleagues have the professional skills to facilitate communication in any situaiton they encounter. They should be confident that their colleagues feel the same way about them. Having the opportunity to interact with each other and "talk shop" strenghtens collegial relationships in a much deeper way than quick introductions or greetings in passing ever could.

Collaboration is also a benefit for you, the manager. It creates an opportunity to see where your employees are at.  This gives you the ability to see what other support they may need to avoid burnout. This could keep you from losing a good interpreter. Collaboration also gives you, the manager, the opportunity to create teachable moments with your crew.  Maybe you find that there is a common problem that needs to be addressed.  It might be that you discover best practices and want to share that with the whole team.  The opportunities are endless.  All of it will improve your team’s overall service delivery.  Building a collaborative environment will build trust between you and your team so that addressing these things will be a breeze.

As you can see, collaboration meets the motivational and behavioral needs medical interpreters have.  They’ll appreciate supporting other members of their team, the opportunity to learn from one another, and building on their natural need to interact with others.

Next time we’ll look at some practical things you can do to foster collaboration.  In the meantime, let us know what you’re doing.  Now is a great time for us to start collaborating with our colleagues around the country!

Related posts:

Posted on February 19, 2015 and filed under Manager.