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Medical interpreters and certified translators in the medical field are in a very unique and challenging position. In this day and age of the coronavirus pandemic, medical translation is more essential than ever as they’re rushing to translate and disseminate the latest coronavirus findings to researchers all over the world.

What started in China quickly got out of hand and turned into a full global crisis in the form of a pandemic according to the World Health Organization (WHO). That being said, medical translation and interpretation services require a keen understanding of how medical jargon can be perceived differently across borders.

Between these factors and other considerations that are constantly at play in the world of medical translation services, the work ethic of a medical interpreter or even medical documentation translator must be impeccable and beyond reproach.

The medical translator must be able to quickly and accurately provide a quality translation as even minor mistakes made in the medical document translation services for a hospital or a patient can quite literally be deadly.

Thus, there is a lot to be learned from the work ethics required to become a medical translator or interpreter.

Who Is a Professional Medical Translator and What Is Their Job?

There are many different types of translators, and some will inevitably be used as medical translators even if it is not their primary job or function.

However, as with any specialized skill or trade, there are specific requirements in place before anyone can become a certified or professional medical translator. This can occasionally be overlooked during global outbreaks like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the ramifications should never be underestimated and the reason that these people are considered to be professionals in their field is very relevant and important, most especially when fighting off a global crisis like the current morass.

A professional or certified medical translator will have much more than just a passing knowledge of all of the relevant medical terms within their specialized field of study.

Even medical transcription requires an in-depth knowledge of specific medical terms and jargon. While there are available methods for putting medical jargon into terms that the layman can understand, this is not the case with doctors or other medical professionals.

Unlike the medical transcriber, the certified medical translation expert must be capable of knowing and understanding all of the correct medical terms in at least two different languages.

Professional Medical Translators and Time Management Skills

Statista reports that there are many foreign-language speakers in the US other than English that number in the millions. There are 40 million Spanish speakers, over 3 million Chinese speakers, and over 1 million Filipino, Vietnamese, Arabic, French, and Korean speakers.

Many of them prefer to speak their native language other than English at home. Some can be attributed to simply by choice but some indicate a lack of proficiency in English. This is also known in terms of LEP or Low English Proficiency for the sake of governmental documentation, with individuals with a deficient LEP offering suffering in terms of available services due to language restrictions. When taking these populations into account, it’s clear that medical translators are the key for them to have access to proper medical treatment.

In times of global crisis, these people are on the front lines and must quickly, completely and accurately provide the medical document translations, often in numerous different languages. A Spanish to English translation must then be accurate enough to use the English or the Spanish version to translate into any other language, without losing any of the meaning or otherwise changing the documents in hand. Each translation in each language must be the same as all of the others, not just close.

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The medical translation company must be capable of providing as many translations as necessary to get all of the relevant information out to academics, scientists and medical professionals around the world are as quickly and accurately as necessary to be successful.

The World Health Organization must translate each document it creates into all six of its official languages, including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Each one of these copies will then be used as the basis for further medical document translations that must be completed accurately and as quickly as possible so that the global dissemination of the information can begin immediately.

The Certified Medical Translator and Attention to Detail During Times of Crisis

Given the exact and literal nature of the medical terminology, it would seem as if there are times and occasions when machine translation would serve equally as well as human translation services, but this is rarely the case. The attention to detail that is required cannot be matched by any machine.

In the best cases, this problem may be resolved with post-edited machine translation services, but even then, there may be the context that is lost or a literal translation sits in place of a figurative translation more in context with the conversation. This may be due to the use of analogies or other linguistic variations by the doctor, or for any other number of reasons. At the end of the day, and given the current limitations of technology and machine translations, much of this work must ultimately be completed by humans.

It was once said that “to err is human”, there are times and occasions when mistakes are not an option. It is fairly safe to say that medical document translation services often include matters of life and death and their duties are not to be taken lightly.

Whether translating information relevant to the treatment of an illness or disease or translating the latest scientific research about the coronavirus, there simply is no room for errors or anything else to be “lost in translation”.

During this global crisis and many others similar to it, even in our recent past, the need for quick and accurate translation and global distribution of information is imperative to bring the global pandemic to a successful end.

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Such are the pressures put on medical professionals in the healthcare field, that many studies have been conducted, not only about their mental health and achieving a balance between work and life. Medical professionals as a group all experience similar experiences, given the serious nature of their work. There are numerous records of the constant pressure of life and death situations resulting in medical professionals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Statista even reports in a 2019 survey that overburdening bureaucratic tasks are the main cause of burning out among physicians in the US.

Conversely, the study of the pressures and stress levels of medical translation professionals and certified interpreters in their position as utilitarian workers is a relatively recent field of interest.

Medical translation professionals must learn to create that perfect balance between their jobs and their lives. Being able to leave the pressures of the job behind when one leaves work is a necessary skill for even the most dedicated of professionals to avoid burning out and fading away.

This, however, is exactly why it is so important that these individuals learn to create a meaningful separation from their work at the end of the workday. Meanwhile, it is equally necessary that while at work, their attention to detail must not allow for any issue, no matter how seemingly irrelevant, will be missed, left out or even altered in the slightest.

Constant Challenges – Improving the Skills of Medical Translation Professionals

While there is no direct threat from machine translation at this time, at least not for the majority of medical document translation services, there may come a day in the not-too-distant future when it will become a major threat to the industry. Medical translators and interpreters, like any specialized field of translation, do have a vast number of competitors and both the individuals and the translation agencies must constantly work to improve every aspect of their performance.

There are frequent awards and other perks for top employees, but this is not always the best motivation for constantly improving the skill sets of the individual. What better motivation can one have though, than the continuation of employment?

Keeping the job is very important if one is going to make a career as a professional translator or interpreter, but there are additional benefits as well. Improving personal skill sets also allows for a boost in career potential, as well as the ability to ensure that the job earnings continue to rise throughout a career.

Ironically perhaps, the more specialized the skills of the certified medical translator or interpreter are, the more they can earn within that specific area. However, it also means less work within that field as the more specialized the skills, the more targeted, and thus, the smaller the end market.

However, this is also a great way for the skilled medical translator to ensure their value to the translation agency or any other potential employer. This same effect can be seen in virtually any field, notably in the different areas of medical practice.

A General Practitioner will have a much larger potential customer base than a neurosurgeon. While the neurosurgeon may be better paid in some regards, the general practitioner will be able to earn money more constantly. The same holds with professionals in the fields of interpretation and translation no matter the field of focus.

Should I Become a Medical Translator During the Current Global Outbreak?

Perhaps someone grew up in a bilingual household or maybe they just learned a second language to boost their career opportunities.

For someone intimately familiar with at least two different languages, medical translation and interpretation can be a profitable, long-term career choice. The person learning to become a medical translator or interpreter should have more than just a passing interest in medicine as well. A few medical dictionaries and some heavy reading may be required to become more closely familiar with the terminology, however, as there is no room for error in the field of medical translation.

There are also similar translation specialists in other fields, however, and these can be considered as well, depending on the individual skills and strengths of the interpreter.

Specialized translators and interpreters may focus on other areas such as legal translation services, engineering or even research and development. For some people, their work as a professional translator or interpreter may be secondary to a larger, more encompassing job position within the same field. Some of these fields offer many of the same opportunities without the exacerbating levels of stress often associated with more specialized fields like medical or legal translation where lives may depend on the accuracy and efficacy of the document translation services.

In this day and age of social distancing, self-isolation and even mandatory quarantines, more people are looking to move to work online as much for their health and avoiding global outbreaks as they are looking for convenience.

For the people looking for other types of work, there is an equal number of viable opportunities to work from the comfort of home and to earn a living working online. Video translation services are just one area where jobs are growing as more and more businesses move online.

Transcription service jobs where the work is comprised of listening to conversations and transcribers get paid by the word, have been in demand since at least the nineteen seventies, with even more transcription job opportunities now available in the digital age online.

There are a great many fields to choose from for those with a sufficient level of understanding for two or more languages. Regardless of what field is ultimately selected, or what career choice anyone makes, there are still many lessons to be learned by everyone from the overall work ethic of the professional medical translator.

What We All Should Learn From Professional Medical Translators and Their Work Ethic

During this current global coronavirus pandemic, more people than ever are looking for and finding work online. Some of these people have never had to manage their own time quite so fully at work before. This can be a daunting task for some people, especially when working from home surrounded by so many familiar distractions.

Always focus on getting the job done as quickly and accurately as the professional medical translator and certified medical interpreter and there should be no cause for concern.

Always pay attention to the details of the job at hand. It does not matter how accustomed one may be to playing with their dog or even their kids at home, these or other distractions must not be allowed to distract from the work to be completed.

Whether working as a freelance language specialist or as a telecommuting full-time employee, as more jobs get sent home, there will be more distractions, but only those who can still get the job done on time will be employed long enough to establish a working career online.

Some people will find it difficult to adjust to working at home, working online or otherwise not having a definitive breaking point between work and life. If there is a spare room, set up a separate home office in the spare room and do not enter it at all during off times.

In worst-case scenarios, a single, emptied closet can be made to house enough equipment to call it an office, again allowing it to be closed off during times not spent working. What is imperative is that we all learn how to separate our lives at work from our off time, and worry about work while we are working, and more personal concerns when we are not.

Most importantly of all perhaps, everybody needs to remember that there will always be obstacles and challenges getting in the way. Sometimes it is better to go around and sometimes it is better just to crash through, but always remember that no obstacles standing in our way are permanent, save for those obstacles that we have made to trap ourselves. There is always a better road ahead, but it is up to the individual to determine which path they will take in life.


Written By
Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language service provider with more than 12 years of experience in rendering industry-leading translation and interpretation services in more than 100 languages to diverse clients and industries.

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