What is the Difference Between a Medical Interpreter and a Medical Translator?

Some employers may use these titles interchangeably. But the Bureau of Labor statistics differentiates a medical translator as someone who specializes in translating written documents, such as patient records or medical legal documents. A medical interpreter typically is hired for verbal communication skills….


3 Main Differences Between a Medical Interpreter and a Medical Translator

You’ve probably heard the terms “medical translator” and “medical interpreter” being used interchangeably, but these two roles are quite different. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics even specifies that medical translators are trained to work with written texts, while interpreters focus on the spoken aspect. Whether you’re looking to get certified or hire someone to help with your medical needs, you should know the main differences between the two. So, what are they?

1. Medical translators work with written content

Medical translators often need to deal with paperwork and with the more formal side of the medical world. They are required to know precise technical terms in each language to make sure all the information in paperwork is correct, and thus need to go through medical translation programs. It is important for medical translators to have a strong command of both languages, because mistakes could even have legal repercussions.

2. A Medical interpreter facilitates communication between people

A medical interpreter essentially serves as a liaison between patients (who are not proficient in English) and their doctors. Just like medical translators, they need to know medical terms.  However, they are essentially healthcare interpreters who make sure everyone understands each other so that patients can get the right treatment. A Medical interpreter must have the language skills to correctly interpret what both parties are saying, as the patient’s health is dependent on it.

3. The training is different

Because these two jobs are so different in nature, those who want to handle written work should do medical translation training, while anyone who wishes to work with people in a medical setting should get Medical Interpreter Certificate Training instead. In fact, it would be helpful for interpreters to be certified in languages that are commonly spoken by immigrant populations in the US, such as Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese.

Although your hospital will provide you with any assistance you may need, it is still useful to know what service to ask for if you or a loved one is sick. Medical interpreting and translating are two different jobs that both carry a great deal of responsibility.

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Yana Fisher

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