My bad note taking experience

Healthcare interpreters are encouraged to become proficient at note taking. I have found note taking especially useful when I must remember dates and numbers. For this reason, I have been studying on how to take better and faster notes. I plan to even take a class on the subject at some point soon.

I have been resistant to taking notes due to an experience. Many years ago, when I had been an interpreter for only a few years, I showed up to a doctor’s office fully prepared. At that time, my kit consisted of my company logo ID badge. I carried a book bag with a medical glossary, a translated anatomy book, a glossary of vulgar terminology from different Latin American countries, and my notepad.  My iPad carries all of that and more, at a fraction of the bulk.

When I entered the examination room, I took out my notepad. The doctor became visibly distracted and asked me what I was doing. I explained to him that it was common for interpreters to take notes to assure accuracy. The doctor told me that he didn’t like people from the insurance company writing down everything he is saying! He didn’t appreciate being observed in that fashion. I explained that it wasn’t my intention and that I would put the notepad away. The doctor didn’t accept my explanation and was upset throughout the appointment.

Later, the nurse case manager I worked with informed me that the doctor made a complaint to the insurance company. She explained to me that some doctors feel uncomfortable with people taking notes. Although she didn’t ask me to stop taking notes, she did request that I don’t do it with that doctor and that I use discernment before pulling out my notepad with other doctors. In other words, if I need to use it because of a difficult interpretation and I confirm first that the doctor is ok with it, then it would be fine.

It was several years before I began to take my notepad out again. I used it whenever I interpreted over the phone or if I was interpreting at a deposition or hearing. Now before taking notes, I ask permission and promise to delete it when we are finished. I also use my iPad to take notes which is also more unassuming than my old book bag with all the dictionaries.

All professionals must use the tools of their trade. In the case of interpreters, a good notepad, paper or electronic, is one of those tools. It is our duty to educate others on how to work well with professional interpreters.

Note: After writing the article and before publishing it, I have since taken a couple of very good continuing education classes on note taking. I realize more than ever that much time will need to be dedicated for me to develop a great note taking system. As it develops, I will share with you my discoveries.

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2 thoughts on “My bad note taking experience”

  1. Hi Alfonso, thanks for sharing this story. Crazy that it even happened! It sounds from your post like you might have been in an employee situation with the company you were working for? So the freedoms allowed to you might have been pretty different to a freelancer/independent contractor. That’s an uncomfortable spot to be in
    I have to say you handled it much more meekly than I would have! I imagine I might have put my notebook away that one time to avoid a scene, but I would afterwards let the clinic and/or agency know that having a notebook on hand is important for me to do my job well. If the powers-that-be insisted I not use notes even with that provider, I would say unfortunately I won’t be interpreting at your clinic anymore.

    I think assuring that you will destroy notes afterward is a great strategy. However, I personally would never ask permission to take notes. In many cases, having a notebook on hand allows us to do a much better job. I am not at an employee; I am providing a technical professional service, and I consider it my job to educating others about what I need to do my job well, when necessary.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Thank you for the Two cents! At the time I had been an interpreter for a few years, mostly working for agencies. Today I regularly take notes on my I-Pad and then erase them afterward.

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