A medical interpreter is a professional interpreter who has received special training so that he or she can work in a medical setting. Medical interpreters create a bridge between patients and doctors who are separated by language gaps, facilitating communication and ensuring that patients get the care they need. These interpreters may also act as advocates who speak up on the behalf of communities who cannot communicate on their own due to language barriers.
To become a medical interpreter, someone must be fluent in the primary language of a nation, along with a second language. In addition to being fluent in two languages, medical interpreters are also fluent in medical vocabulary, so that they can understand what doctors are saying and they can convey information from patients in a clear and helpful way. A medical interpreter is not limited to two languages: facility in more languages is welcome and can in fact be very helpful. People can also opt to work as medical translators, translating written communications into different languages.
From the perspective of patients, using a medical interpreter can ensure that a medical issue is addressed properly. If a patient cannot communicate with a doctor, he or she has no way of knowing that the doctor understands the complaint, and the patient will also not understand the results of tests, the reasoning behind medical procedures, and other issues. Being surrounded by people who speak an unfamiliar language can also be frightening, and a medical interpreter can help dispel these fears.
Medical providers like to use interpreters whenever possible because using an interpreter allows for a high level of care, and increases efficiency. It can also cut down on malpractice insurance and decrease medical mistakes, as doctors will not make mistakes or bad decisions because of a frustrating language barrier. Doctors also like interpreters because they can expand the base of potential patients; a doctor in California who offers treatment to Spanish-speaking patients, for example, will see a lot more patients.
Several trade schools offer medical interpreter programs for people who are interested in joining this profession. Medical interpreters can also opt to learn through volunteering with clinics and hospitals, providing patient advocacy and learning along the way.
Working as an interpreter does not always generate a very high salary, but it can be very emotionally rewarding. Interpreters also get a chance to refine their language skills. The best interpreter is compassionate and patient, with specific training in both interpreting and medical skills. Medical interpreters must also be sensitive to cultural differences, as many immigrants may have personal boundaries and moral norms which vary from those of the surrounding community.