Why are Community and Medical Interpreting Different?

Community and Medical Interpreting

The world of interpreting is diverse, with services and careers spanning across various industries today. An increasingly multicultural society brings along with it an influx of new languages. Language diversity brings about increased opportunities and demand for professional interpreting. Community and medical interpreting are two prominent fields that have widespread demand. Read on to learn about the differences between community and medical interpreting.


What is Medical Interpreting?

Medical Interpreter in the hospitalMedical interpreters are professional interpreters who have received certified training, such as the Medical Interpreter Training Program from Language Connections. This allows them to work with healthcare professionals in medical environments including, but not limited to, hospitals, doctor’s offices, urgent care centers, and more. A Medical Interpreter’s primary duties are:

  • Bridging language gaps to allow for better doctor-patient relationships. They build repertoire, which facilitates more effective medical treatment. Better doctor-patient relationships also increase the efficiency in which patients receive care, thus cutting down on the otherwise time-consuming pronunciation and other verbal errors.  This is good for the patient and the medical facility.
  • Facilitating communication to ensure that the patient receives the exact care they need. Medical interpreters ensure avoidance of miscommunication of medical terms and medicine dosage. They also help to ascertain all context for the medical ailment, including past medical history of current life circumstances that might affect treatment.  All of this information is key and can help patients and doctors avoid medical mistakes and all their consequences-- even death.
  • Creating a more pleasant atmosphere for the patient. Being surrounded by speakers of unfamiliar languages can be daunting and stressful, especially when somebody already feels vulnerable because they’re sick. A medical interpreter ensures a sense of familiarity, alleviating some of the patient’s fears and discomfort.


Why is Community Interpreting different?

Community InterpretingCommunity interpreting is done by professional interpreters who have received certified training, such as Language Connections’ Community Interpreting Certificate Program. Unlike medical interpreting, community interpreting takes place outside of medical facilities.  Instead, community interpreters can be found in schools, helping social workers, aiding in immigration or social security procedures, helping with police business, and more.  A community interpreter’s primary duties are similar to a medical interpreter’s, but the details are different:

  • Like a medical interpreter, a community interpreter must have a relevant background understanding. Instead of knowing anatomy and physiology, though, community interpreters need to fully understand the target services of their client. For instance, if they’re working with public safety committees, they need to be well-versed in safety laws and statutes to provide accurate and relevant interpretation.
  • Again, like medical interpreters, a community interpreter needs to have cultural knowledge. This is a relatively small part of medical interpreting, though.  Basically, a medical interpreter just needs an understanding of culture as it will relate to the medical issue or treatment.  For community interpreting, it’s a large part of the job because cultural sensitivity is always paramount. This is especially important in cases where a client is part of an ethnic minority that is often misunderstood or marginalized by society.
  • The last difference is the fact that community interpreters are often assisting a group that is trying to serve as many people as possible. Many medical interpreters are hired by the family or patient and are focused on just assisting them. A community interpreter might spend their day serving a line of immigrant, migrant and refugee clients as they attempt to apply for federal/state services, go through legal procedures, etc.  Or, they might serve in a meeting where public policy that affects thousands of people is made.  As the name connotes, community interpreting often serves a large group of people in one assignment or job, whereas medical interpreting is often about concentrating attention on one individual at a time.

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Yana Fisher

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