Conferences are Only for Doctors, Right?

Ah, conferences! The chance to gather with colleagues, see old friends, make new contacts, learn new information, earn your continuing education credits, eat great food, and find out what’s new in the world of healthcare interpreting.

But, ah, conferences. Airfare, hotels, taxis, restaurants, registration fees – who can afford to go, right?

Never fear! Here is your guide to making conference attendance do-able. Conferences are truly a wonderful experience for any interpreter, whether you’re a novice or you’ve been around for decades, and we have some great conferences in our field. Here’s a little of what you can expect.

Most conferences run at least two days, and some run three. There are usually a few plenary sessions, where everybody meets together to hear a keynote speaker or a special guest, as well as multiple shorter “concurrent” sessions, often about an hour long, that focus on a particular topic. “Concurrent” means that there are two or even three sessions being offered at once, and you get to choose which is most interesting to you. Breakfast and lunch are usually included in the registration fee, and everyone is on their own for dinner. Since networking is a major activity at conferences, there is often a social event on at least one of the evenings. In addition, language agencies and other interested groups often have exhibition tables, displaying what’s new in the way of technology and recruiting new contractors. The conference often finishes with a plenary session, and sometimes there is even a raffle of prizes for those who stay till the end.

But what about those pesky costs? It’s true that going to a conference can be expensive. Here are some tips for doing it on the cheap.

  • Registration fees.
    Some conferences offer scholarship options or reduced fees for students. If there’s nothing on the website, contact the organizers to see if any opportunities might be created. See if your local interpreter association might offer scholarships. And check out the program; a conference with a really rich program might be worth a hefty registration fee, even without a scholarship.
  • Airfare
    Purchase your ticket as early as possible, and if you can, go with frequent flyer miles. Pick early morning or late evening flights, as these are cheaper. Itineraries with more stops are also usually cheaper. And don’t assume a closer conference will have the least expensive airfare; sometimes you can get a better deal flying between hubs across the country than between secondary cities that are much closer.
  • Hotel
    Conference hotels tend to be sort of pricey. Although it sure is convenient to stay in the hotel where the conference is taking place, you can almost always get a better price somewhere else within walking distance. See if you can find a roommate with whom to share, and you can get the cost down to something manageable.
  • Ground transportation
    It’s worth a bit more to stay at a hotel with a free airport shuttle. If that’s not an option, coordinate your travel with colleagues so you to share the costs of a cab. Multiple-stop shuttles and public transportation can also be good alternatives.
  • Meals
    Most conferences provide breakfast, lunch and snacks as part of the registration fee. For dinner, get together a group that’s willing to find a reasonably priced restaurant (generally, NOT the conference hotel!). Also, if there is an evening reception, take advantage of the hors d’oeuvres; sometimes they can be a meal in themselves! Of course, if you really need to save money, you can always bring along food from home to eat in your hotel room. Remember though that one of the most important parts of a conference is meeting people, and dinner is a great time for networking. So if you can join a group to go out to eat, do so.

Well, now you know how to keep costs down. What conference should you attend? There are lots of terrific options!

NCIHC: the Unconference

The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care holds its Annual Membership Meeting in early June in different places around the country. In 2018, the Council met in Denver. This meeting is open to all members of the NCIHC, and it differs from most conferences in that there are fewer presentations and more consultation. The goal of the AMM is for the Council leadership hear from members so as to better guide its activities during the year, and for members to hear updates about how language access is advancing across the country. If you are interested in policy and in language access as a field, and if you want a voice in national issues, this is the “unconference” for you.

CHIA: The Friendly Conference

The California Healthcare Interpreting Association holds its annual conference in late February or early March. In 2018, the conference was held in Irvine and in 2019 it will be in Sacramento. The CHIA conference is invariably loads of fun, with an energetic (and somewhat crazy) crew of organizers, longer workshop times, an award ceremony and a great dance party with live music. There are workshops for both beginners and advanced interpreters, and everyone is made to feel welcome. Interpreters enjoy this gathering so much that many come from out of state, and it is almost becoming a default national healthcare interpreting conference.

ATA: The Ultra Professional Conference

The American Translators Association holds its annual conference in October, and this year it will be in New Orleans. ATA tends to be more expensive than other conferences, but it attracts translators and interpreters who work in all venues – business, conference, court and medical. Here you will rub elbows with lots of very professional linguists, and your biggest problem will be trying to choose between the amazing array of fantastic sessions available.

There are lots of other conferences as well that I don’t have the space to write about here: The International Medical Interpreter Association (IMIA), the Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators (TAHIT), the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators (TAPIT) and the Tennessee Association of Medical Interpreters and Translators (TAMIT). New Mexico has its own state association as well, although this year’s New Mexico Translators and Interpreters Associations’ conference focused exclusively on court interpreting. Maybe when there are more healthcare interpreters involved, the focus will broaden!

And how about international conferences? Try The Critical Link, the only international conference on community interpreting, held every three years in a different country. It’s coming up in 2019 – in Tokyo! So save your frequent flyer miles, find a roommate to share a room with, and brush up on your Japanese. Conferences are NOT just for doctors – they are for all professionals. And that, dear interpreter, includes you.

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