“That’s how I lost my last interpreter!”

One day, after introducing myself to a new patient, he began to rattle off a list of issues he wanted me to later tell the doctor. He detailed all his pains and trepidations, and urged me to address all of them with the doctor.

I explained that if he needed to write down all his concerns in order to remember them, I would provide him with a piece of paper.  However, I do not speak for him as an advocate would.  As an interpreter, my function is to repeat what he says and relay to him what the doctor says, plain and simple.

To my surprise, he nodded in understanding and said, “that’s how I lost my last interpreter. He was such a good friend, and he helped me a lot.”  The patient then proceeded to explain that one day the doctor overheard the interpreter tell him that the doctor was no good and the patient needed to find a better one. His guess was that after overhearing the conversation the doctor probably complained to the insurance company and had the other interpreter removed.  I would concur.

Speaking for the patient and giving medical advice is completely unethical for medical interpreters. Funny thing though, by simply giving the patient a piece of paper, the patient had what he needed. He made a list of questions for the doctor and all of them were answered. At the same time, I upheld my unbiased position, maintaining the respect of both doctor and patient.

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2 thoughts on ““That’s how I lost my last interpreter!””

  1. Interesting post; I agree, an interpreter should never intervene in the relationship between a doctor and a patient: the interpreter is only the voice of them, not more not less. An interpreter shouldn’t give any advice to the patient about the treatment or what the doctor does right or not. A professional medical interpreter should always keep that in mind.

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