You might be a medical interpreter if you...

In order to help others understand what it's like to be a medical interpreter, interpreters from different hospitals and clinics shared some thoughts on finishing this sentence: "You might be a medical interpreter if. . ."

Here’s what medical interpreters had to say:

(Warning: Reading this list might cause giggling or other emotional reactions.)


You might be a medical interpreter if:

• you have ever gotten so used to changing phrases into other languages that when you are with family who is monolingual, you are tempted to answer back in the wrong language!

• your pediatrician asks you about your child's symptoms and you ask your child the same question in Spanish.

• you cringe but force a grin when someone says to you, "Oh, I can get by with the patient in Spanish... I took it in high school."

• your family members give you a list of symptoms they’ve been feeling and then say, “What do you think it is?”

• you’ve ever been referred to as the “interrupter.”

• you cringe when someone calls you a "translator."

• you're expected to be in several places at the same time.

• you know the way to every clinic and hospital around, but nowhere else.

• you use clinic locations to give directions. (“Take a left at the urgent care clinic. The restaurant is right across the street from the university medical center outpatient testing building.”)

• you've eaten lunch in your car so often that there are spoons in the glove box. It should really be called a spoon box.

• you’ve ever eaten a candy bar from a vending machine and called it “lunch.”

• when checking in for your own medical appointments, you say, "I have an appointment with Dr. So-and-So (pause and emphasize) FOR MYSELF."
Doctor and patient

• you accompany your monolingual English-speaking husband to his appointment, and the provider asks you (Spanish interpreter) if you are there to interpret for him.

• you’re really good at anticipating what the doctor is going to prescribe to the patient.

• you’ve ever impressed your nurse with how prepared you are to answer all of her questions at your own annual physical exam.

• you've had 100's of medical personnel tell you how they took high school Spanish and can handle the appointment. But they won't let you give the shots or draw blood even though you've used a micropipette in high school biology. Unfair. 🙂

• while interpreting (male interpreter), you've spoken candidly in first person about the birth of your last child and how breastfeeding went.

• you go to your own appointment, and the doctor enters the rooms and asks, "Where is the patient?"

• you dominate all the medical-related categories on Jeopardy.

• you’re really good at playing the board game “Balderdash.”

• one of your all-time favorite books is a dictionary.

• you’ve ever silently congratulated yourself for seamlessly interpreting a very tricky phrase.

• you’ve never actually met some of your closest colleagues.

• you panic because you realize you don’t have your pager with you, and then you remember that you’re on vacation. Thirty minutes later, you do the same thing.

• a nurse calls you the day after your surgery to see how you’re doing and has an interpreter on the line. You explain that you don’t need an interpreter, and the nurse says, “But your chart says ‘interpreter’. . . Oh, wait, that’s your occupation!”


author avatar
Yana Fisher

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