Medical Interpreter Safety: 3 Survival Tips When Home and Work Collide

survival tips

As medical interpreters, we make every effort to establish rapport while navigating delicate boundaries with the people we interact with professionally. But what happens when our professional lives intersect with our personal lives?

For many interpreters, their professional life and personal life collide because the communities are small, close-knit and geographically condensed. To make things even more challenging, sometimes things don’t go well at the doctor’s office. Cases involving domestic abuse, gang-related violence and child protective services are quite volatile and have the potential for fallout extending beyond the walls of the hospital or clinic. The people involved in these incidents are people you see at the grocery store, in your neighborhood and at your favorite restaurant.

It is important to navigate the delicate balance of your personal and professional boundaries well.

These are three things you can do to live an active life and keep the boundaries intact.

  1. Set expectations ahead of time with the patient and their family members. Even if you’ve never seen the person in the community before, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever cross paths with them at the laundry mat. During the pre-session, inform the family that your role boundaries extend to the greater community as well.
  2. Set expectations ahead of time with your family. Don’t just assume your family has studied the interpreter code of ethics. You need to let them know that you cannot discuss who you’ve interpreted for or even acknowledge them in public. Being clear up front will take the pressure off you and make for more positive family dynamics.
  3. Keep your personal life separate, even when others push in on the boundaries.  You will always be an interpreter in the eyes of the community members. Don’t be surprised if someone approaches you at the park and asks for help contacting their doctor’s office. But do politely redirect the person to contact their doctor’s office through the appropriate language access system. Give the person the number to call if you have it with you. Reassure them that there are other interpreters ready and waiting to help at this time. And then enjoy your time at the park.

When worlds collide, they don’t have to end. You don’t have to become a hermit or move to a different community or quit your job. You just have to be prepared and proactive.

What challenges have you encountered because of living and working in the same community?

Interested in exploring this topic and more strategies in greater depth? Join us for Rolling With The Punches, and we’ll take a closer look at these and other unique situations that medical interpreters face.

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