A Day in the Life of a Community Interpreter

What’s it like to be a community interpreter? Before you go to the trouble to get trained and certified, don’t you wish you could tag along with someone first, just to see what it’s like?
Well, here’s your chance. I asked a professional interpreter in Albuquerque to track her movements on one day – any old day – just to see what it was like to be her. She’s both a staff interpreter at a hospital and a freelance interpreter in the community, and she’s been working as an interpreter and translator for more than 15 years. She’s had basic training, attends interpreter conferences and takes continuing education to stay sharp. She’s also nationally certified. When I asked her to track her movements on a typical day, here’s what she wrote:
Attached is the information about a day of my work.

7:00 a.m.        Left home for work and spent 20-30 minutes in traffic and looking for parking.
7:30 – 7:45    Got my schedule and checked e-mails.
7:45 – 9:00    Hospital OB triage emergency, 25-year-old woman. Complicated pregnancy, baby in distress, and chances of survival were minimal, so patient was admitted. Patient’s husband was present, he was an English speaker. Simultaneous interpretation.
9:05 – 10:00    Physical and occupational therapy session. 59-year-old woman under contact precautions with a tracheostomy, feeding tube, evaluation for outpatient rehabilitation vs. skilled nursing facility.
10:00 – 11:00    Clinic appointment: general surgery visit for 55-year-old woman. Weight loss surgery consultation, discussed surgery options and diet information.
11:00 – 11:15    Break!
11:30 – 12:30    Pediatric oncology appointment. Patient with a rare condition to receive bone marrow transplant in a different state. Very emotional, patient very worried about younger sibling being the possible donor.
12:30 – 1:00    Lunch!
1:00 – 3:00    Emergency room coverage:

  • 83-year-old woman, respiratory infection.
  • 36-year-old man, allergic reaction.
  • 15-year-old girl, ankle fracture. X-ray, cast and follow up with orthopedics.
  • 42-year-old man, abdominal pain. General surgery consultation possible gallbladder removal.
  • 67-year-old woman. Cardiology consult, patient to be admitted to rule out congestive heart failure.

3:00 – 3:15    Break!
3:15 – 3:55    Pediatric cardiology appointment. 9-month-old boy sent home after heart transplant in Denver, was then admitted due to low oxygen level. Follow up for discharge.
4:00 – 4:30    Drove back home!
4:00 – 6:00    Made dinner and spent time at home with family.
6:00 – 6:15    Gathered all materials for conference.
6:15 – 6:45    Drove to hotel, found parking and set up system for simultaneous interpretation.
7:00 – 8:45    Simultaneous interpretation for a conference opening with a panel of 3 speakers.
8:45 – 9:00    Collected headsets from clients and put system away.
9:00 – 9:20    Finally, home.

Whew! By my count, our community interpreter provided services for at least 17 patients and family members in that one day – and that doesn’t even count the providers who were depending on her. She served patients as yet unborn and as old as 83, with conditions as simple as a fractured ankle and as complex as a bone marrow transplant. Imagine how grateful the patients and families were to see our interpreter there – and imagine what it would have been like trying to navigate all these health problems without being able to understand the doctor.
I asked this interpreter (who, by the way, chose to remain anonymous), how she feels about the work she does. She responded this way:
I’m very proud of my job, and I enjoy helping others.

This is the life of a community interpreter then: running from crisis to crisis, staying as calm as a cucumber, and providing the essential communication link that allows providers to be effective and patients to be healed. What a gift to the world!

Be the Bridge!
Learn more about getting trained as an interpreter.

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