When Good People Are Unethical: Professional Development

Imagine this. Instead of hiring a professional interpreter who is familiar with and cognizant of the code of ethics, an untrained bilingual person is hired to simply cover the assignment.   Without proper knowledge and training, the bilingual person serving as an “interpreter” will most likely unconsciously commit serious ethical violations while at the same time thinking he is doing a good deed.

Example 11

Mr. Ishmael Samdani was contracted to interpret for Mrs. Esmina Sharif for surgery. The Surgery Center also had an interpreter; however, Mr. Samdani was permitted to interpret at the patient’s request.

After interpreting for pre-surgery prep, the patient was finally rolled into surgery, giving the interpreter a break. During that break, the hospital interpreter kindly pulls Mr. Samdani to the side and respectfully points out a couple of minor errors. Mr. Samdani felt that his rendition was correct since that is how they say it in his country.

The hospital interpreter encouraged him to take a course that covers some of the more common slangs spoken from different countries. He also encouraged Mr. Samdani to join a local association to maintain updated interpreting trends. Mr. Samdani thanked him for the advice but felt that it wasn’t necessary for him to go through all that. That type of thing is for newcomers joining the profession.

This scenario demonstrates another ethical problem when it comes to professional development. Let’s look at some more NCIHC National Standards on Professional Development to understand why.


The objective in the NCIHC National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care in this case is to attain the highest possible level of competence and service. Interpreters strive to further their knowledge and skills, through independent study, continuing education, and actual interpreting practice.

The interpreter continues to develop language and cultural knowledge and interpreting skills

  • An interpreter stays current on changes in medical terminology and regional slang


In the United States, there are a wide variety of Spanish (Arab, Portuguese, etc.) speakers from different countries. Slang among Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Columbians may wildly differ. A person could be fluent in Spanish and have no idea what another Spanish speaker from another country is saying. Professional interpreters work hard at being familiar with these differences.


The interpreter seeks feedback to improve his or her performance

  • An interpreter consults with colleagues about a challenging assignment


Mr. Samdani, the interpreter, should have welcomed the kind and helpful input from his colleague especially since he was discreet about choosing the appropriate time to speak.


The interpreter supports the professional development of fellow interpreters

  • Experienced interpreters serve as mentors


The interpreter participates in organizations and activities that contribute to the development of the profession

  • Attend professional workshops and conferences


In this scenario, the interpreter was fluent in both languages and had experience. However, he needed to sharpen his skills and update his vocabulary. He could have benefited from professional development, and his experience could have been a benefit to newer ones in the profession.

Guess what? The next article will finish this series considering circumstances where good people can be unethical without even knowing it by discussing advocacy.

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