5 Tips for Medical Interpreters to Build Rapport with Everyone

build rapport

As much as we’d like to knock people’s socks off with our interpreting skills alone, we need to stretch ourselves a bit more. We need to make sure that we also build rapport with the people we have the privilege of encountering. It’s part of our professional duty.* Much like being bilingual doesn’t mean you can interpret, being an interpreter doesn’t mean you’ve got a natural knack for rapport building. It’s a skill. It needs developing.

Whether it comes naturally or not, here are a few tips for integrating rapport-building into your work as a medical interpreter.

1. Take no one for granted.

In the medical setting, everyone’s job and responsibilities are important and interdependent. Keep this in mind in all of your interactions. Sure, authority has its place in the medical setting (Do you really want the emergency room physician to take a vote before deciding how to treat a patient with multiple injuries?), but be careful that you don’t get caught up in the false idea that authority is synonymous with importance. Having more authority is not equivalent to having more importance and vice versa. Remember that when others are interacting with you, but especially when you are interacting with others. Everybody matters.

2. Be efficient.

Take as little time to complete the interpreter business as possible. People are busy. Find ways to be efficient whenever possible. I remember fondly when a long-time PSR said to a new PSR “this is the easiest part of our job” in reference to the interpreter sign-out process. It’s nice being the easiest part of someone’s job. 

3. Respond to other people’s needs. 

Granted, there are ethical boundaries to consider, but don’t miss an opportunity to make life better for someone when you do have a chance to do so in an ethical way. Did I mention ethically? You might not be able to apply pressure to a laceration, but you can make sure the nurse knows how to contact the interpreter services department before you leave the unit.  

4. Remember, you are always “on stage.”

This includes in the parking lot and any other time or place when you’re not actively interpreting. Mind your manners even if you’re not technically on-the-clock. No one will differentiate between on-the-clock-you and off-the-clock-you. Be your best you at all times and in all places. 

5. Acknowledge people as people, not objects.

The easiest way to do this is to learn people’s name. Even better, learn how they like to be addressed. Then remember it for the next time you meet. In doing so, you acknowledge people as a unique member of the human species, not as a meaningless clump of cells that happens to be covered in clothing.

How do you establish rapport with everyone in the medical encounter?

Interested in polishing up your rapport-building skills? Sign up for How May I Help You?, an online continuing education course for medical interpreters. 

*Don’t take my word for it. See page 17 of A National Code of Ethics for Health Care Interpreters for more on this. Peruse the entire document if you like. It’s a good read!