Proposal: New Prerequisite for Healthcare Interpreters


I’ve heard it said that every teacher should experience what it’s like to fail an exam and every nurse should experience what it’s like to get poked with a needle.  The idea, of course, it that professionals should experience what it’s like being on the receiving end of some of the less pleasant aspects of their professional duties. The idea is to heighten the professional’s empathy, which will hopefully increase the tact and care they employ towards individuals who count on them for education, healthcare, or any other service they provide in the course of their professional duties.

Following that thinking, all healthcare interpreters should experience what it’s like to rely on an interpreter for their own communication needs. Doing so can serve to heighten an interpreter’s awareness and empathy toward the patients, families, and medical professionals who are navigating the (hopefully smooth!) waters of interpreted communication.

Here are some ways to directly or indirectly get this type of experience:

  • Arrange a field observation with a medical interpreter of a language pair other than your own.
  • Arrange an interpreted conversation (perhaps over coffee!) between yourself and a friend or colleague who speaks a language you don’t know.
  • Leverage online communication tools and the global village to arrange an interpreted conversation with someone whose culture and language you know little about.

The closer the situation is to your professional practice the better, but it can be difficult to arrange an exact match. If a professional interpreter can’t be arranged for the exercise, realize that the objectives can still be achieved with a non-professional communication facilitator. Get creative and realize that the point is to experience firsthand what it is like to rely on someone else for your communication needs.

After experiencing any of these situations, reflect on any of the following questions:

  • Did you notice yourself adjusting your communication in any way? Why?
  • Where there any gaps in your or the other person’s understanding?
  • Were you fully engaged and aware of what was being said by all parties at all times? Yes or no, what was it like to be in that position?
  • Who seemed to be in control of the communication? Why?
  • What did you notice about your own (or the other participants’) demeanor during the encounter?
  • How will this experience shape your perspective on your own professional practice?

Whether you are just preparing to enter the interpreting profession, have been a professional for many years, or are somewhere in between, it’s not too late (or too soon) to experience what it will be like for the people who will be on the receiving end of your services.

Interpreters, if you have ever experienced needing an interpreter yourself, please share your reflections in the comments box below.

Posted on April 19, 2017 and filed under Interpreter, Manager, Newbie, Trainer.