Healthcare Interpreters, Please Stop Listening


Healthcare interpreters, please stop listening. Well, don’t stop listening all together. That might make it impossible to interpret well. To be more specific, please stop listening to the sharp comments (sometimes called micro-aggressions) that you hear from people in reference to the work you do. Try listening instead for the message with in the message.

For example, if you hear the comment: “I wish I had your job, all you have to do is talk.”

Think of it as meaning: “You’re so good at what you do that you make it look easy.”

And if you hear the comment: “I studied some French, so I might just need your help a little bit.”

Think of it as meaning: “I don’t really know how nuanced cross-cultural communication is.”

And if you hear the comment: “We don’t need an interpreter. My Arabic-speaking nurse can tell me what the patient is saying.”

Think of it as meaning: “I don’t know how complex real interpreting truly is.”

In my experience, these sharp comments rarely come with the intent of offending or belittling interpreters, but they still sting. I think it helps to keep in mind that if you work in health care – no matter your position, title or rank – your job is not easy.

I have a friend who works in the financial offices of a large health care system. Her job is not easy.

I have family members who are doctors. Their job is not easy.

I have a neighbor who is a patient service representative at an area clinic. Her job is not easy.

I am a healthcare interpreter, work with an amazing team of healthcare interpreters, and collaborate with wonderful healthcare interpreters through other organizations. Our job is not easy.

As interpreters in healthcare settings, these sharp comments might make us feel singled out, unappreciated, or perhaps even like we are a nuisance that people are obligated to put up with. These comments might wear on us or chip away at our stamina and grit. That is why it is so important that we don’t listen to these comments.

Interpreters, please stop listening to comments that say (or even just imply) that your skills are nothing special, complex, or unique. Please stop listening to the comments that say your work is quaint, easy, or a commodity. And if it is too hard to stop listening to them altogether, at least try not to take them to heart.

Your skills are unique. Your professional practice is complex. Above all, your work is important, and it does matter.


©Connecting Cultures Inc. 2018

Posted on June 27, 2018 and filed under Interpreter.