If you’ve spent any amount of time over the past few years or so listening to conversations among healthcare interpreters and stakeholders, chances are you’ve heard discussions about the interpreter being (or becoming) part of the medical team, integrating into the medical team or another similar expression. Understandably, it’s a topic that generates excitement and enthusiasm as well as trepidation and concern.
Let’s take a moment to consider what it means to be part of a team. In sports, it means having a position and performing in that position to the best of one’s ability. The same can be said of a theater troupe, a dance company or a teaching team. In each of these teams, the individual members have a particular purpose and something specific to contribute. In some cases, team members have overlapping or shared skill sets, but ultimately each individual brings something unique and of value to the overall purpose or mission of the team – winning the game, dazzling the audience, or growing life-long learners.
The same can be said of the medical team. On this team, all professionals contribute within the scope of their professional ability in service to the care and wellbeing of their community members.
Think about all the professionals who work together on a medical team and what they contribute to the cause. You think of a nurse doing nurse things. You think of a phlebotomist doing phlebotomist things. You think of a physician doing physician things. I could go on – therapists, technologists, counselors, etc. – but you get the idea. When you think of a medical team, you think of all these roles working together and contributing to a common purpose as they work within their scope of practice. Right?
The same is true for interpreters as team members. When we think of an interpreter, we think of the interpreter doing interpreter things. This includes doing things within the professional scope, training, and abilities of the healthcare interpreter. It does not mean going beyond abilities, scoffing at role boundaries or doing anything else that could be detrimental to the interpreter, the profession or others in the immediate encounter. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the way interpreters worth their salt have been operating for quite some time now.
So, it would seem that the concept of “being part of the medical team” isn’t so much a change in the way things are done as it is an acknowledgment of how things are done when they are done well.
In other words, it is about saying, “Hey! I have a boatload of skills here, and I’m going to use every last one of them in the service of effective communication. You're welcome.” (Said with humility, of course.)
I dare say that the question in point isn’t so much a matter of whether or not interpreters are members of the medical team. They are. The question is more a matter of how well interpreters contribute to that team. Now there’s a loaded statement with lots of variables and intricacies, to be sure.
Coming up: A closer look at interpreters and the rights and responsibilities of medical team membership. Which could also be described as “getting my head out of the clouds.” How’s that for a teaser?