Medical Interpreter Professional Development Beyond the Classroom

beyond classroom

Let’s face it: Classroom-based learning when done in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, in the right way, and for the right reasons is awesome! But it isn’t the end-all, be-all, do-all, and serve-all learning solution in today’s professional world. Professionals in any field, including interpreters, need and expect to have immediate access to what they need in order to do their job better and to continue expanding and deepening their professional skills.

For example, if I know I need to brush up on my neurology-specific medical concepts (notice I didn’t say vocabulary), am I going to search the web for classes that will teach me about neurology? Of course not. 

I’ll research the topic on reputable websites, and after 30 minutes – or probably more like an hour because I tend to get caught up in things – of reading text, pondering diagrams, and viewing video tutorials, I’ll have gained quite a bit of insight and expanded my knowledge on the fascinating world of neurology. 

I’ll probably also reach out to a few colleagues to see if they have any additional tips or suggestions when it comes to interpreting at the neurology department. One colleague will say she has no experience, but to please share with her whatever I discover. Another colleague will suggest a few websites, promise to send me a PDF of a glossary he created, and relate a couple of insightful anecdotes about interpreting for EEGs and figuring out how to time the interpretation perfectly when the doctor is assessing the patient’s motor function. A third colleague will suggest avoiding neurology like the plague, and I’ll wonder if I should research any link between the plague and neurological effects.

Maybe in my research I discover there is a class coming up, and maybe I decide to register for the class because after reviewing the course description, I decide that it will be a great way for me to continue growing my knowledge and skills. (See related blog topic.) Good for me! In the meantime, I will have already done a great deal to increase my own professional knowledge and skill. As a happy bonus, I will have also been a catalyst for my colleagues’ professional development as well.

I won’t get a certificate for any of that effort, but that won’t matter. The immediate and meaningful growth is more valuable than a certificate. 

I dare say this scenario describes the type of informal learning and professional development that interpreters do on a weekly, if not daily, basis. There’s always more to learn, explore, and discover. Interpreters thrive on learning new stuff. The code of ethics even requires it.*

Interpreter managers have an incredible opportunity to cultivate informal professional development activities in a way that builds a culture of continuous professional growth for their entire team while also demonstrating the value of these informal learning activities. Whether by providing the tools that foster informal learning or implementing a reward structure that recognizes informal learning activities, interpreter managers can ensure that their teams engage in learning activities that have an immediately meaningful impact on the work they love to do. No need to reserve conference rooms, coordinate schedules or break the budget.

Will classroom-based training events go away? Doubtful, and I wouldn’t advocate for that. Certain situations require the guidance, safety, and feedback that the classroom provides. But confining all learning to the classroom stifles professional growth. Furthermore, recognizing classroom-based learning events as the only valuable professional development activity doesn't help anyone either.

Interpreter managers, you are a key influencer when it comes to fostering the professional development of your interpreter team. Find ways to get beyond the classroom. 

*See page 3 of A National Code of Ethics for Interpreters in Health Care (NCIHC, 2004).


Will you be attending the 9th Annual TAHIT Educational Symposium September 25 & 26, 2015 in Galveston, Texas? Be sure to attend Erin's presentation Everybody Wins: Creating an Integrated Professional Development Program for Your Interpreter Team for an even more in-depth discussion of this topic.

Posted on September 4, 2015 and filed under Manager.