When Good People Are Unethical: PROFESSIONALISM Part 2

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 9

Nadia Grysboski was contracted to interpret for Ms. Polniczek’s outpatient surgery. While Ms. Polniczek is being prepped for the surgery, the nurse hands the surgery consent form to the interpreter and tells her to read it to the patient. The description of the surgery is written in very technical terminology that the interpreter has trouble understanding and interpreting. So, she does the best he can and hopes for the best.

While interpreting, Nadia makes a mistake and the doctor who happened to know some Polish pointed out her mistake. The interpreter later whispers to the patient that her mistake was really the result of the doctor not speaking clearly.

The surgery center was 3 hours behind schedule. To make matters worse, the surgery took longer than expected do to unforeseen complications. Nadia found that it was becoming harder and harder to concentrate because she was so tired after 8 hours interpreting on and off without even eating.

This scenario demonstrates other ways an interpreter might act unethical when it comes to professionalism. Let’s review some more NCIHC National Standards on Professionalism to understand why.


The objective in the NCIHC National Standards of Practice for Interpreters in Health Care in this case is to uphold the public’s trust in the interpreting profession. At all times, interpreters must act in a professional and ethical manner.

The interpreter avoids sight translation, especially of complex or critical documents, if he or she lacks sight translation skills


  • When asked to sight translate a surgery consent form, an interpreter instead asks the provider to explain its content and then interprets the explanation.

The interpreter is accountable for professional performance

  • The interpreter does not blame others for his or her interpreting errors


The interpreter advocates for working conditions that support quality interpreting

  • Interpreters on a lengthy assignment should indicate when fatigue may compromise interpreting accuracy

In this scenario, the interpreter lacked sight translation skills and should have interpreted what the nurse was reading instead. Everyone make mistakes; a professional interpreter will simply admit when that occurs without making excuses. Also, when the interpreter began to suspect that the assignment was going to be longer than expected, she should have spoken up to receive support or aid.

Untrained bilingual people, although well-meaning, typically fall right into this trap. However, a mentally drained interpreter can make terrible mistakes and can be held liable.

The next article will finish up on professionalism circumstances where good people can be unprofessional and unethical without even knowing it.

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