The Importance of Continuing Education for Medical Interpreters

| January 15, 2015

Denise Whiteboard 144x108By Eliana Lobo-The medical field is ever changing and evolving. So is the knowledge required of medical interpreters to do the job well. Breakthroughs in health care are discovered and introduced into mainstream care on a regular basis. These changes are not limited to terminology and treatments, but extend to an evolving code of ethics that reflects cultural and societal evolutions.

To stay in touch with these advancements, medical interpreters must periodically attend continuing education seminars and workshopsto keep their skills and knowledge sharp and current.

In fact, many of you currently working as a medical interpreter received your initial training by taking the Bridging the Gap medical interpreter training course. This basic 40-hour training fulfills the professional board requirements for prior health care interpreter training, which is needed to take tests for national certification.

This course is extremely beneficial for bilingual speakers who are currently providing medical interpreting services without any prior training as an interpreter. BTG training provides an introduction to the U.S. health care system as well as a basic understanding of the role of culture in interpretation. Basic interpreting skills, an introduction to medical terminology and human anatomy, coupled with a review of standards, ethics, best practice fill this full week of training.

But – one week is not enough time to prepare an interpreter to do their best work for the duration of their career. It’s a great first step, and should be followed by additional coursework and ongoing self-improvement.

So what’s the next step? Skills Training.

You need to look for training that includes LOTS of practicum as part of the curriculum. This is how you will be able to measure your performance, set goals, do the work of repeating skills drills, shadowing at different speeds and registers. You need to have these skills available and ready, well oiled from repeated use, familiar, and comfortably at hand, to really do your best work no matter the circumstances.

Ongoing, continuing education undertaken on an annual basis must be the default for all medical interpreters!

Best Practice

Let’s separate this premise from the two arguments that could derail our discussions: namely, cost and access to ongoing, continuing training. I will get to those two points in my next blog.

Instead, let’s look at why ongoing, continuing medical interpreter training for experienced interpreters is a good idea, a “best practice” if you will.

Recently, a story in Reuters about brain exercises and mental sharpness struck me as central to why continuing education is critical. Reuters reported:

“A brief course of brain exercises helped older adults hold on to improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed for 10 years after the course ended, according to results from the largest study ever done on cognitive training.

“People in the study had an average age of 74 when they started the training, which involved 10 to 12 sessions lasting 60 to 75 minutes each. After five years, researchers found, those with the training performed better than their untrained counterparts in all three measures.

“Although gains in memory seen at the study’s five-year mark appeared to drop off over the next five years, gains in reasoning ability and processing speed persisted 10 years after the training.”

This study was undertaken with participants in their 70s. Imagine the impact if one were to begin brain training/interpreter skill drills in one’s 30s or 40s?

The Challenge

If you take the time, you can document this for yourself and become a believer.

Try this: is an online site that can help you “improve your brain health and performance with brain games designed by neuroscientists to exercise memory and attention.”

Choose the skill you want to improve: multi-tasking, memory, attention, speed, etc. The site will offer you a number of different video game-like exercises. Choose one. Then, simply document your scores for the next dozen sessions or so. I guarantee you will see a significant improvement over a course of only 10-12 repetitions.

Here’s the bottom line:  If you make the effort, you will be rewarded with improved results.

The skills you use every day as an interpreter can be improved with regular practice and candid self-assessment.

No matter where you are in your career, your skills can still be sharpened. There is always an area where you excel and where you can improve. For medical interpreters, continuing education strengthens weaker skills and helps make strong interpreting skills stronger.

The confidence that comes from knowing you have made measurable improvements in your own skill set is something that only you can give to yourself. Do the work and you will see and feel the results!

Native speaker: English & Portuguese; Fulbright Grantee; M.A.-Bilingual Education from Brown Univ; Trainer/supervisor of 41 med interpreters; Harborview Medical Center

Category: On Demand Interpreting

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