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Seven Reasons to be Grateful You’re a Medical Interpreter This Holiday Season - by Ingrid Holm

We have a great job - but you already knew that! Still, like everyone else, we can get caught up in finding things to complain about. So in the spirit of the holiday season, here are seven reasons to remember to be grateful you’re a medical interpreter: 

1. It’s Not a Desk Job 

Maybe you chose this job because you always dreaded ending up in a “desk job.” It’s an easy trap to fall into - according to US News & World Report, 86 percent of Americans spend their entire workday sitting down.[1]

Not only that, but did you know that a desk job may be not only boring, but actually life threatening? A study in 2012 showed that “[p]rolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.” [2]

As a medical interpreter, that’s not something you have to worry about. Typical interpreters in a medical setting spend the majority of their time working on their feet. I once set my phone to track my walking time during an 8-hour shift at a large hospital and recorded walking 10 miles. Having a workout built into your workday is a definite perk!


2. Flexible Hours

Medical interpreters can choose whether to work as independent contractors for agencies (having complete control over their schedules) or to get a full- or part-time staff position with set hours. The nature of the industry offers choices for professional interpreters to decide what’s best for their particular personality and life situation.

People get sick and have babies at all hours of the day, so interpreters aren’t limited to working between 9 and 5, either. We are needed 24 hours a day; it’s up to you whether you want to work late into the night or be up at the break of dawn, and whether you want to do it every day, or pick up assignments when you feel like it.


3. Variety

This isn’t the type of job where you do the same thing every day until you can do it in your sleep. Although experience in interpreting is as important as it is in any other industry, you will encounter new situations every day and need to be ready for whatever comes your way.

If you work for an agency, you’ll get to visit dozens of different clinics, hospitals and other settings. You will meet and work with different people every day and see all variety of health care specializations.

Even if you have a staff position, you never know when a situation will come up that you’ve never seen before. Health care issues are virtually endless, so you’re constantly exposed to new things...which brings us to the next point.


4. Continuous Learning

Just like there’s never a dull moment, there’s never a time to put down your books and feel like you know it all. There will always be more terminology to learn and skills to master.

Before becoming a medical interpreter, I never thought I would be present for a birth or see what really happens when someone comes into the emergency room with a gunshot wound.

You learn a lot just in the normal course of a work day with this job, and knowing that literally anything could come up at any time is motivation to keep your skills sharp by studying and attending classes and seminars on your own time.


5. Helping Others

Interpreting isn’t charity, but you are helping people get access to the health care they need to keep themselves and their families safe. We can all recognize how important that is! Interpreters are an integral part of providing equal access to health care, as well as a friendly face and point of contact for LEP patients.

Studies have shown that the care that LEP patients receive is not equal to the care given to patients who speak English. However, those same studies also show that when provided with a qualified interpreter, it can “raise the level of clinical care for LEP patients to the point where it approaches or equals the care given when there is language concordance.”[3]


6. Job Opportunities

Medical interpreters don’t have to worry about a saturated market or increasing layoffs. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the job outlook for interpreters and translators will improve by 42% between 2010-2020, which it rates as “[m]uch faster than average [for other professions].” [4] Economicmodeling.com explained that “[s]ince 2007, a time when most of the economy was taking a severe beating, translation and interpretation services have grown by about 50%.”[5] Forbes magazine, calling it “the biggest industry you’ve never heard of,” states that investors and venture capital firms are increasingly interested in the sector. [6]

Even the advent of new technology such as video and phone interpreting hasn’t seemed to slow down the need for interpreters. One hospital I know of set up a phone interpreting bank, expecting to be able to farm out its services to other hospitals when in-house demand was low. Once hospital staff learned that they could have an interpreter in the room by lifting a receiver, however, the demand was so great that the hospital now has to use off-site phone interpreters in addition to its own phone bank.


7. Appreciating Our Own Health

Working in health care, you can be exposed to a lot of difficult life situations. When I started interpreting full time, I would notice that on days when I would come into work feeling down about problems in my own life, I would feel better soon after starting work, even if I had been interpreting for very sad cases. It seemed like a contradiction.

After doing some research, I discovered what psychology calls the Social Comparison Theory. “In a nutshell, we constantly compare ourselves with others and then make judgments about the quality of our life based on these observations. We reflect on how well or bad we have it based on the perceived good or bad comparisons found among others.”[7]

It‘s easy to take our health for granted when we are healthy. Working with sick people all day is a constant reminder of how fortunate we are to be on this side of the health care system, and it can easily make the imperfect aspects of our own lives seem trivial and summarily unimportant.

These are a few of the reasons I found to be grateful for my job. What would you add to this list?