By Tzaztil LeMair
Becoming a healthcare interpreter requires more than just being able to communicate in two languages.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
Healthcare interpreters play an essential role in the treatment and recovery of patients with limited English-language proficiency. A misunderstanding or miscommunication can lead to the wrong diagnosis and treatment which can have serious consequences for the patient. Currently, an estimated 23.6 million American adults have limited English skills and require assistance when communicating with medical staff, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, the need for healthcare interpreters continues to grow. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics projects an 18 percent employment growth over the next ten years, a much faster rate than the average of all occupations. While growing employment opportunities make this profession attractive to bilingual job-seekers, becoming a healthcare interpreter requires more than just being able to communicate in two languages.
Healthcare interpreters work in medical settings and help patients communicate with doctors, nurses, technicians, and other medical staff. Therefore, interpreters must know both technical and common medical terminology in both languages. Although certification is not always required, leaders from the healthcare community prefer to hire certified interpreters.
Dr. Melissa Wallace, a medical interpreter with over 20 years of experience and director of the Graduate Certificate in Translation and Interpreting Studies at UTSA, says healthcare interpreting has gone through “massive positive changes” regarding research, testing and credentialing over the last decade, and stresses the importance of obtaining formal training and certification. “The most promising new generation of healthcare interpreters will be the ones who dedicate themselves to training and professional development, and who make every effort to pursue professional certification,” she adds.
In addition, healthcare interpreters must be sensitive to patients’ circumstances, as well as maintain confidentiality and ethical standards. Wallace explains, “As a medical interpreter I find it a privilege to witness the most momentous and intimate lives of people who are often incredibly vulnerable.” She adds, “Medical interpreters accompany people through life-changing moments, deliver terrible and wonderful news, witness life and death.” Wallace concludes, “The best healthcare interpreters are the ones who work from a place of respect, who are culturally aware, who embody professionalism and who embrace the guiding principle of beneficence.”
If you are bilingual, compassionate and interested in the healthcare field, perhaps you should consider pursuing a healthcare interpreter certificate to advance your career while making a difference in peoples’ lives. Attend an upcoming free information session about our program or get in touch with Enrollment and Success Coordinator Marina Irfan.
Tzatzil LeMair is the account director of Sensis TX. A graduate of the Boston University Questrom School of Business, she is an experienced advertising executive and leader in cross-cultural, multi-channel marketing.
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