By Dr. Lizbeth N. Mendoza
Professionalization is important for Medical Interpreters to achieve recognition, credibility and respect from the community they serve, other healthcare professionals, and in general from society, which will derive in better work conditions, growth opportunities, and economic return. But without any doubt the most important reason is the safety of the patients. Epstein and Hundert (2002) provided a practical yet comprehensive definition relevant to our discussion: Professional competence is the habitual and judicious use of communication, knowledge, technical skills, clinical reasoning, emotions, values, and reflection in daily practice for the benefit of the individual and community being served. Becoming a Professional in Healthcare is a commitment that arises from genuine interest in helping others, with altruism, dedication, respect, and empathy. Medical Interpreters may get lost in the overwhelming amount of different types of knowledge and skills they require in order to successfully approach the multitude of challenges that they face: intellectual, emotional, ethical, cultural, administrative, economic, and legal, among other struggles. This concern about how much there is to learn in order to be competent is valid and much needed because, as participants in the healthcare sector, we all know that carelessness, ignorance, and misunderstandings may compromise not only our job, but most importantly the patient’s satisfaction, wellbeing, health, or even, life. In order to successfully assimilate all this body of knowledge, Medical Interpreters need spaces and times dedicated specifically to reflecting on their role; instances of how to place their concepts in context; safe opportunities to put their skills to the test; forums exclusively dedicated to facilitating the acknowledgement, elaboration, analysis, exchange, and organization of facts, ideas, goals and values. This is exactly what Education provides. It is through education that professionals acquire a solid framework upon which to build higher levels of understanding of their endeavor, therefore becoming competent and proficient in what they do. Through the systematic examination of the myriad skills and knowledge required to provide professional services, interpreters will develop successful strategies and make well founded decisions before, during and after each encounter. By exchanging experiences in the field and reflecting on the ramifications of a given behavior, they will progress in modeling responsible conduct. By being more and better educated about their affairs, Medical Interpreters grow in the confidence that they are qualified members of the healthcare team, dignifying their career and empowering themselves. Finally, the availability of a body of knowledge, ethical codes, standards of practice, certification procedures, research, and strong professional associations like IMIA, calls out for a community of Medical Interpreters with a strong background in their line of work, who not only are providing excellent services and are in tune with the status quo of the profession, but can also contribute to the growth, advancement, and strengthening of this field, generating new approaches and recommendations, educating the community and the new generations of practitioners about this invaluable healthcare profession. Reference: Epstein RM, Hundert EM. Defining and assessing professional competence. JAMA 2002; 287(2):226–235.