Compassion Is Key for Interpreter Managers

This post is a continuation of the series for interpreter managers covering six steps that are essential to creating a great place for interpreters to work.  This post focuses on the fourth step: Compassion.

Health care interpreters deal with everything from birth to death. And they will face these extremes. They also work in an industry that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Being on-call to be pulled away from your family dinner or much needed night out with friends, working through the night after a long day at work, running from appointment to appointment without a break; these are real physical and mental challenges interpreters face.

And don’t forget about their life outside of interpreting.  Families sacrifice time with their loved ones on holidays, birthdays and other special times of the year. The experiences of any interpreter is sure to affect their time at home, even for the most seasoned interpreter.  By nature, interpreters give of themselves in amazing ways and it can be easy to forget they have a life outside of work.   

Their work will be affected by severe and challenging encounters.  Their challenges are only amplified when traumatic circumstances arise.  It is in these moments that you, the manager, need to find compassion for your interpreter.  Take a moment to recognize their dedication, especially in times of great sacrifice and difficult situations.   

Here is a brief list of some working circumstances a medical interpreter can find themselves in: 

  • Death of any kind, but especially a child or a patient they’ve been working with for a long time
  • Abuse
  • Violence
  • Extended encounters, especially over night
  • Informing a patient they have a serious or a potentially life threatening illness
  • Assault 

Showing compassion is hard because we don’t always know what to do.  We see someone who is hurt or challenged but we don’t know how to make it better.   

Here’s what I do know:  Interpreters are rays of light in the darkest of circumstances.  Just imagine how the patients, their families and the providers would feel if they needed to get through a life changing moment without the interpreter.  Interpreting is hard work.  But the work they do is always a blessing, especially in the darkest hours of the people they meet.

Don’t get stuck on appointment or call volume.  Business gives us the opportunity to do this great work.  But it’s not always the most important thing.  Be flexible in how you meet demand.  Give the interpreter a break.  Acknowledge you recognize their plight.  Be empathetic to their situation.   

Here are just a few ideas you can do, as a manager, to support your interpreter in difficult times.   

  • Offer to listen to their story. 
  • Take a moment to write a personalized note.  Just a “I know it’s hard, but you’re really great at what you do!” would go far.
  • Reschedule the subsequent appointment or let them go home early.  They might appreciate the time to decompress.
  • If you have an Employee Assistance Program available to you, suggest they speak with a professional in confidence.   

Interpreters are not machines, although many work harder than one!  Emotional and physical fatigue are very real.  Undoubtedly your interpreters will face these challenges and how you address them will determine their satisfaction levels as a member of your team.

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Posted on October 28, 2015 and filed under Manager.