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The role of Medical Interpreters

Do you have a background in medicine? Are you thinking about becoming a medical interpreter? There are a few things that it is important to bear in mind.

Medical interpreters are the vital link between a doctor and the patient. Their role is to clearly, calmly and concisely convey to the patient the doctor’s instructions/diagnosis/advice etc.  It must be in appropriate language and in a cultural framework that the patient can understand. The presence of an interpreter can also be reassuring for the patient as they are then secure in the knowledge that they can easily communicate their needs and problems to the doctor. The interpreter must also have an excellent knowledge of medical terminology and procedures; the health and safety of the patient is directly linked to the interpreter’s ability to communicate.

As a medical interpreting service provider we expect all our interpreters to conduct themselves professionally at all times and to dress appropriately. This will help the patient relax and trust that interpreter is conveying their messages accurately. The interpreter must be courteous to both the patient and the staff in the hospital/clinic and they must pay close attention to what is being said at all times.

Ethical rules come into play in a medical context as well and these can regulate the interpreter’s behaviour and relationships with the medical practitioners and the patient. Within the medical field there are several areas of conflicting ideologies as well including abortion, contraception, drugs, genetics and the right to die. As a medical interpreter you must be very sensitive to these and be fully aware of the cultural background of the patient and not allow your own view to conflict with the patient’s.

The right to confidentiality is vital as well and it will not be unusual for medical interpreters to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement upon being taken on for the assignment.

Above all, medical interpreters can find themselves in difficult, emotional and rapidly shifting situations and so compassion and empathy will ensure that the best interpretation service is provided.

Does anyone have experience as a medical interpreter? Is there any advice you’d give for those thinking of training as one?

For more information on the services we can provide visit our medical interpeters page, or if you are interested in working for us as a medical interpreter please send an email with a full CV to

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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