Importance of Certified Interpreters for Medical Appointments

by Jimmy Beldon

Translation by Doug Bowen-Bailey

I have a story to share with you that is so typical of doctor’s offices who claim to have an interpreter working for them when the person isn’t actually qualified and doesn’t hold any certification. Generally, it takes some effort to educate the office about the importance of an interpreter having certification as a measure of competency. Without certification, how can I really know if someone is qualified or not?

Doing that advocacy can be tiring, however, and so with a new doctor that I started going to in a small town, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt to see what would happen.

I showed up for the appointment and it was with a doctor I selected because of his specialty in sports medicine. I wanted to have his knowledge for this topic, so I decided to just make it through with whatever interpreting service they provided.

When I first went in, I met with the nurse and the so-called interpreter. The “interpreter” made an introduction, signing her name and saying it was nice to meet me, though making a mistake in how she signed “meet.”

Right away, it made me realize that this situation was the same as so many I had experienced before where people think that having a certified interpreter isn’t necessary for a medical appointment.

I decided not to say anything at first, and just tried to sign as slowly and clearly as I could. The “interpreter” was surprised to be able to understand me.

Then the doctor came in. He was a really neat man, but talked rather rapidly. The “interpreter” did her best to keep up.

I didn’t worry so much about understanding the “interpreter”, just waited until she was done and it was my turn. I then signed at a level of native fluency in ASL. The “interpreter” didn’t understand me at all and asked me to slow down. I repeated it again at the same pace, only to be asked to repeat it again and again.

The doctor watched this scene unfold in which there obviously was no communication happening, and I made my frustration extremely clear. The doctor seemed to be starting to understand what was going on. In a few minutes, after expressing my impatience, I finally put pen to paper and wrote, “Reschedule with a new interpreter,” and then left.

The next day I found that my point was clearly made. For all my subsequent appointments, everything was all set with a certified interpreter waiting for me. Because of this, my visits to that doctor’s office went much more smoothly.