As you begin your career as a medical interpreter, you’ll likely encounter a few common appointments. These appointments range in difficulty and are often daunting when you first start out. If you’re working with an agency, they’ll be able to assign you to appointments to help you gain experience. Don’t worry! After you have a couple assignments under your belt, you’ll feel confident taking on bigger challenges. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the most common medical appointments you’ll see and how to approach them.

medical terminology

Before You Begin: Interpreting Medical Terminology

Before taking on any medical assignments, preparation is key. Interpreting medical terminology is an invaluable and necessary skill for any medical interpreter. We’ve talked about this in previous articles, including our series about medical terminology and challenges you might face. The best way to prepare for any assignment is to talk with your project manager. Ask for details ahead of time: special vocabulary you should study, case-specific circumstances, etc. Your project manager is your best resource: they’re a link to the client and your advocate as well. If you’re not working with an agency, ask the person who hired you or the site contact they provide.

Studying medical terminology seems daunting but isn’t as difficult as it looks. Medical terminology is easily broken into “information chunks” that you can review at your leisure. Learning language roots and basic anatomy makes interpreting a breeze. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can work with more specialized terminology based on the appointment you’ll attend. Knowing the medical terms you’ll need gives you confidence and allows for a smooth flow during the interpreting session.

What are the most common medical appointments for interpreters?

There is a fairly wide range of medical appointments that you can be assigned to. Our interpreting department at Global Arena works with interpreters in all stages of their careers. With that in mind, we’ve reviewed our most common medical appointments and ranked them from least difficult to most specialized. A beginning interpreter would likely encounter the following appointments as they grow in their confidence and knowledge:

  1. Physical/Occupational Therapy:

    • The first appointment to which a new interpreter might be assigned is physical or occupational therapy. Physical therapy works with large movements, like walking, running, bending, and stretching. Occupational therapy covers smaller, more specific movements, like buttoning a shirt or tying shoes. Both appointments are excellent for beginner interpreters. They require short, easy, instructional sentences with limited medical vocabulary—usually, only body part terminology. New interpreters can get a feel for the field without being overwhelmed by too much unfamiliar or fast language.
  2. Individual Therapy:

    • The next appointment to which you might be assigned is individual therapy. Individual therapy is quite different from physical or occupational therapy. It rarely involves medical terminology but gives experience in a different aspect of medical interpreting: conversation. The back-and-forth flow of an individual therapy session helps an interpreter develop their rhythm. Individual therapy also provides opportunities for interpreters learning to develop necessary boundaries: keeping work and life separate. Therapy sessions are often emotionally intense. Interpreters must learn to act as a language conduit without allowing content to sway their interpreting. Individual therapy falls under the subset of “mental health interpreting.”
  3. General Practitioner Visits:

    • General Practitioners, or Family Doctors, represent the first interpreting sessions for a beginner interpreter that include medical terminology. They’re typically laid-back, particularly if it’s a well-visit for a child in a family practice. While they do require body part terminology and occasionally descriptions of medical problems, the appointments are often slower in pace. There are plenty of places for an interpreter to interject for clarification or to admit a mistake.
  4. Specialist Appointments:

    • Specialist appointments are more advanced in terms of medical terminology and interpreting demands. An interpreter approaching a specialist appointment should study specialty-specific terminology. Ask your project manager or site contact for the specific appointment circumstance. Though they likely can’t go into detail, they can give you a brief overview so you can prepare. This doesn’t constitute a violation of HIPAA as you’re a contracted, approved provider for the patient. If you’re working with an agency, they fall into the category “covered business entity” and thus can also give information. Specialist appointments are often more demanding than general practitioner or therapy appointments. They’re fast-paced and filled with more technical language. Specialist appointments are more suited to experienced interpreters.
  5. Independent Medical Exams (IMEs):

    • Independent Medical Exams, also known as IMEs, fall into the legal category as well as medical. An IME is a third-party evaluation of an injury, to issue an opinion for a legal matter. Language precision is important in an IME as understanding also impacts court case outcomes. At the client’s discretion, the appointment is sometimes recorded to ensure clarity and justice. Independent medical exams are quite common and often high-pressure. They also frequently include specialized medical injury terminology. Before an IME, ask your project manager or site contact for any circumstance information they can give. Preparation is the first step to success. Any extra vocabulary you learn helps not only for one assignment, but any future sessions as well.

Global Arena’s Interpreter Training

Starting a career as a medical interpreter requires so much more than a bilingual knowledge of medical terminology. It’s tough to decide where to begin! Our 16-hour training gives you a solid interpreting foundation and helps refine basic skills. It’s built on practical application, group discussion, and networking in a safe environment. It’s a live-taught course over zoom, for four consecutive mornings. Courses are available at the end of each month and include a certificate upon completion. Learn more about our comprehensive interpreter training program.

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