When Good People Are Unethical: PROFESSIONALISM Part 3

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 10

Mr. Andretti was contracted to interpret for Mr. DePergola at a doctor’s office. While in the examining room, the doctor asked Mr. Andretti if he was a family member. Mr. Andretti responded, “No doctor, I am the interpreter sent by the insurance company.” The doctor was under that impression because the interpreter was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and didn’t have the appearance of a professional interpreter.

The doctor then insisted on using the video remote interpreter instead. During the interpreting session, there were some technical difficulties and communication problems. When the doctor stepped out of the room, Mr. Andretti whispers to the patient, “You should request that I interpret for you. That video interpreter is terrible!”

This scenario demonstrates other ways an interpreter might act unethical when it comes to professionalism. Let’s look at 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 shows respect for professionals with whom he or she works

  • An interpreter does not spread rumors that would discredit another interpreter


The interpreter acts in a manner befitting the dignity of the profession

and appropriate to the setting

  • Professional interpreters dress appropriately
  • Arrive on time for appointments


In this scenario, the interpreter broke two very important ethical guidelines. No matter how accurate and precise he might have been, the failure to dress professionally caused the doctor to not trust him. Professional interpreters elevate the industry; they do not foment distrust. Mr. Andretti should have addressed any problems in an appropriate location away from the patient.

The next article will continue considering circumstances where good people can be unethical without even knowing it by considering the need for professional development.

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