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.