Medical Interpreter Dress Code: Integrity at a Glance


Every medical interpreter wants people to recognize them as a professional, and people want it to be easy to find the interpreter.  The best way to accomplish both is with a dress code.

If you're an interpreter, you are not an island.  Ever.  You are part of a team.  And everyone knows you can tell what team someone is on by what they wear.  There is a cohesive, common theme that anyone can identify.  No questions asked. 

Merriam-Webster defines Dress Code as formally or socially imposed standards of dress.  A dress code is nothing more than your team uniform.

But I’m unique!

As a young free spirit, a dress code was an attack on my individuality. Interpreting was about connecting with people.  People shouldn’t judge me on what I wear.  

I’m a skilled interpreter.  How I looked couldn’t possible affect my job. 

My style was based on my mood.  Sometimes it would be heels and a skirt. Other times, I wore nice jeans and cute tennis shoes. My tops varied by color and style. Sometimes they were t-shirts and other times a nice button down. It was anything but consistent. Except for my ID badge. I always wore an ID badge. (More on ID badges here.)

That was the only way anyone would know I was an interpreter.  Sure, the people I saw regularly recognized me.  But I’d regularly meet new patients and I’d have to identify myself to them.  It wasn’t obvious I was the interpreter.  Especially since I was blond haired, blue eyed and young.

And then I grew up...

I was a business owner now.  Everyone who went into the world as a Connecting Cultures interpreter was a direct representation of me.  They were my reputation.  

And everyone was great at their job.  But they all looked different.  No one would be able to identify them from anyone else if I didn't have a dress code.

It didn’t take long to learn that what you wear does affect your job. Obviously your clothes don’t impact your interpreting skills. But they do have a direct impact on the assumptions people make about your professional abilities. Your professional integrity can be questioned. Some might ask: “If this person is a professional, why doesn’t she dress that way?”

If you’re thinking “I wear an ID badge, so I don’t have to worry about a dress code,” stop it!  

A badge doesn’t cut it when you’re working and representing a profession. They’re hard to spot and easily covered up. And if you don’t have the luxury of sitting behind a registration desk, an ID badge won’t differentiate you from anyone else coming and going from the medical facility. 

Patients come into the waiting area look around the room hoping to make eye contact with someone they think is an interpreter. Providers can’t tell if you’re the interpreter, a family member or friend. An ID badge and street clothes makes people play Where's Waldo… I mean Where's the interpreter?" It’s a mess.

Sandals and shorts or black suit and tie?  

You might be thinking, “Ok.  You’ve made your case, so what does an interpreter dress code look like?”

I’ve heard examples that run the gamut from beach wear to corporate suites. Dress codes, if any, are all over the board.

Here’s the problem.  Customers and patients need to be able to recognize an interpreter upon their arrival to the encounter. You should be able to pick out a medical interpreter anywhere in the facility. Interpreters provide a specific service and they should be proud to show it.

Don't worry.  

This doesn't need to be a costly investment.  It doesn't have to be a complicated matter.  Just remember this:  A dress code should be professional enough to represent the facility you're working in, yet approachable enough to make the patient feel comfortable.

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Posted on February 27, 2014 and filed under Interpreter, Manager.