The Many Challenges Healthcare Interpreters have to face
Healthcare interpretation is a serious business and holds a lot of challenges for the interpreter.
To begin with, they obviously have to have the necessary linguistic skills to interpret conversations, usually face
to face, although much of the work is today also done by phone or through video facilities.
While a translator of documents has the time to look up specific words or phrases if unsure, a
healthcare interpreter has to be able to interpret everything as it is being said. This naturally also means they
have to have extensive medical knowledge, in order to accurately interpret specific terms in a way that is
meaningful to the patients and/ or their relatives.
Naturally being an interpreter of often sensitive information means having to be able to efficiently
work with and to gain the trust of both medical staff and patients. Most of the information exchanged is ultimately
confidential and interpreters must ensure they keep everything the see or hear
Quite frequently, their job also means having to educate healthcare staff with regards to the
requirements, duties and ethical standards of interpretation in healthcare settings.
There will be also times when serious ethical decisions have to be made, and interpreters need to be
able to recognize and correctly interact and interpret at such times.
Additionally, interpreters have to be aware of and respectful of cultural or traditional differences
when dealing with patients of varying nationalities. Some view illness very differently to others, and in some
cases, specific rules relating to gender interaction may also have to be adhered to.
While healthcare interpreters are first and foremost employed to facilitate care provider/ patient
communication, they are often also required to deal with families or other representatives of a patient in order to
get support for treatment plans etc organized. Again, cultural backgrounds and traditions have to be very carefully
Then, of course, there is the stress of being involved in often very traumatic situations.
Healthcare interpreters may be asked to work in any kind of medical and hospital setting, from emergency rooms to
specialist wards, from general hospitals to specialist clinics, rehabilitation centers and doctor's surgeries to
Some settings, such as domestic violence support centers, mental health facilities, forensic
services or substance abuse clinics can be particularly stressful for interpreters. Dealing with these stresses can
be very difficult, in particular when there is little time to switch off between one assignment and the
Many interpreters also work much longer hours than they are supposed to because of increasing
demands. Initially only used during day shifts, today's healthcare interpreters are often on call at all hours and
although they are supposed to get a break every two hours, due to the high concentration required at all times, few
of them will actually get those breaks.
This can make life extremely difficult, as tiredness can lead to lack of concentration, possibly
resulting in errors being made, which is something they can not afford in the situations they have to deal with.