Strange Things People Say to Their Doctors

When working to gain your medical interpreter certificate, you will learn that a medical interpreter’s main job is to ensure that doctors and patients who speak different languages understand each other. But what happens if the patient says something extremely out of the ordinary? Should the interpreter repeat it, even if it will surprise the doctor?

The answer to this question is, of course, yes. The medical interpreter is responsible for accurately, and seriously relaying all spoken correspondence between the patient and doctor, no matter how strange it may sound. If the doctor needs an explanation, the interpreter should facilitate the discussion between her and the patient, not try to explain by themself.

6 Strange Things People Have Said That You May Have To Interpret To Their Doctors

  1. A patient believing that there are pills you can take to have specific gendered baby.
  2. A patient who asked their doctor why their muscles hurt after going to the gym.
  3. A patient expressing that she wasn’t worried about her foot amputation to her doctor because she thought it would grow back.
  4. A patient who believed that Band-Aids would cure diabetes.
  5. A patient at an eye doctor’s who believed that eye class prescriptions needed to be refilled like medication, instead of getting new glasses.
  6. A patient who thought staring at the sun would strengthen the eyes.

Unique Situations for Medical Interpreters

Hospital InterpreterSometimes strange requests are due to more than just patient’s not being fully aware of biological functions, illness symptoms, or medical treatments. Medical interpreters have the very real and very serious task of helping bridge cultural differences in medical treatments, along with interpretation. Cultures don’t just differ on language, and in the medical sense they often differ on types of treatments, and relationships with medical professionals.

Western doctors do receive cultural training, but this does not always mean that they will understand exactly where a patient is coming from. While working in medical interpreting you may need to help facilitate discussion between doctors and patients about cultural understanding. Medical interpreter certificate training programs will highlight cultural differences, but some common cultural barriers could be:

  • A misunderstanding between a Western doctor, trained to prescribe pharmaceuticals and technical examinations, and a patient who may come from a culture relies on herbal and natural remedies or even prayer.
  • Relying on family remedies or advice instead of drugs and doctor recommendations
  • Misconceptions about drug side effects
  • Unwillingness to speak about alternative medication due to fear of cultural judgment
  • Unwillingness to speak openly to doctors because of their perceived authority position
  • Not understanding that some medicine should be taken even after symptoms have gone

While you should never tell a patient what to do as a medical interpreter, regardless of what you may think, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to help bridge the culture gap to help both the doctor and patient understand each other better. This may result in a compromise of some sort, or the patient agreeing with the doctor’s prescription (or vice versa).

How Medical Interpreter Certificate Training Can Help You Handle Medical Misunderstandings

Medical InterpreterLike becoming a doctor, gaining a medical interpreter certificate and becoming a professional interpreter requires training. This is done, not only to learn specific terminology and interpreting best practices, but to learn how to deal with unique situations. Whether it is a patient not fully understanding a treatment, or a patient with a very different view on medicine and healthcare due to cultural differences, it is an interpreter’s job to relay information as clearly as possible. Language Connections offers a 7 week Medical Interpreter Certificate Training Program that covers the fundamentals of medical interpreting, as well as provides realistic situational exercises. These exercises, led by professional medical interpreters, will prepare you with how to deal with cultural barriers, as well as how to interpret faithfully regardless of what a doctor or patient may say.

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Yana Fisher

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