Five Tips for Medical Interpreters

Tip #1: Find Your Community

Being a freelance medical interpreter, especially when you’re working remotely, can feel lonely. But don’t despair – you can still be part of your professional community. Approach fellow interpreters when you’re out on assignments, make new connections when attending professional events – or build a virtual community using social media (scroll down this blog article for some medical interpreter Facebook group ideas), and connect on professional apps like Slack, or messengers like Telegram. From debriefing after a difficult assignment to getting help with a tricky term, having the help and support of your peers is invaluable. 


Tip #2: Keep Honing Your Skills 

Whether you’d like to become a more efficient note-taker, get better at simultaneous interpretation, or brush up on your sight translation techniques, the options for learning are numerous – from webinars to in-person classes. There are also some things you can do on your own. For honing your simultaneous interpretation skills, try shadowing which involves listening to somebody speak and trying to repeat it verbatim. This will help you get used to having to listen and speak at the same time  and develop fluency. You can try shadowing YouTube videos, podcast hosts, or characters on a medical TV show. For practicing sight translation, try bilingual patient education materials like those on MedLine Plus. Once you find your practice material, take a minute to preview the text. Then, record yourself sight-translating it. Compare your recording with the translated version of the text. While your translation doesn’t have to be identical, it will give you a good idea of where you need to improve. 


Tip #3: Keep Updating Your Glossary 

Nobody knows every single medical term  – not even medical providers! There’s always something new to learn, either in preparation for an upcoming appointment or after an encounter when you jotted down some terms you had difficulty with. There are many ways to maintain a glossary , from keeping a paper notebook to a cloud-based spreadsheet (e.g. Google Sheets) to apps like Quizlet, which also lets you study your terms with built-in exercises and tests. 


Tip #4: Practice Self-Care 

Whether working onsite or remotely, medical interpreters may have to deal with many stressors – from the unpredictability of our schedules to emotionally difficult encounters, and having to sit down for long periods of time. While it’s hard to take time off when you feel like you need to be working, it is essential that we take the time to look after ourselves even if it’s just a short meditation exercise or a quick chat with a friend. If we want to keep helping others, we must also remember to help ourselves. 


Tip #5: Learn about Infection Control 

Even when there isn’t a pandemic, medical interpreters work in settings where they could be facing potential exposure to harmful microorganisms. Knowing infection control protocols will not only keep you and your loved ones safe, but it will also protect patients, some of whom can be vulnerable to infections. Many hospitals require interpreters to do infection control orientation, but if you’d like a refresher, you can take this free infection control course from MasterWord and read this detailed and well-researched article advising medical interpreters on how to disinfect their phones.



Ours is a wonderful profession, but it comes with its share of stress. In addition, working remotely or on a freelance basis can be lonely. To combat that, make sure to practice self-care and to surround yourself with supportive peers – whether in real life or virtually. Another thing about being a medical interpreter is that there’s always more to learn – from skill development to medical terminology, so keep learning!