At some point, and it may not happen in my lifetime the way it looks, the ‘Medical Interpreter Profession’ is going to get their act together. In 1987 the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) pioneered the first medical Interpreter Code of Ethics. As of this year (2018), that was 31 years ago. In 1992 this same organization went on to establish the first Medical Interpreting Standards of Practice, some 26 years ago.
It is possible that I am an impatient type person, but it seems to me that 30 years is plenty of time to figure this out. It isn’t, as the saying goes, rocket science. In 1994 (24 years ago) the National Council for Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) held a mini-conference in Seattle with the goal of, among others, “to lay the groundwork for the establishment of national standards of practice for medical interpreters.” So, let me understand this. IMIA established the first Standards of Practice in 1992, and two years later (1994), NCIHC does the same thing? Okay(?), I guess this is a sure way to get our act together as a profession –two different organizations establishing ‘national’ standards for the same profession.
The cluster doesn’t end here. A quick Google search of “Interpreter Training Courses” throws out some 34 million hits. Now, if two prestigious organizations such as NCIHC and IMIA can’t work together to come up with ‘one’ Standards of Practice for Medical Interpreters, do you think that the multitude of training options for Medical Interpreters are going to have any better results?
In the meantime, we have interpreters (you know, the ones doing the work), out in the field doing the best they can with different standards, adhering to different training methodologies, and trying to follow a code of ethics that doesn’t always coincide with reality.
Why, after all this time, haven’t we fixed this? Does it take 30 plus years to get our act together? Actually, and being technical here, this all started with title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which was the legal foundation for language access –over a half-century ago, and here we are still fighting to be a recognized profession.
The blame game isn’t going to move us in the direction that we need to go. We have accomplished a lot through the years, made some missteps, and downright screwed things up at times. It is time for us, as a profession, to stop working against each other and do something. As the saying goes, we need to either shit or get off the pot.
In it’s simplest form, we need to join all of our resources and force legislative change at the Federal level. There should not be a difference of requirements among states. What constitutes a ‘certified medical interpreter’ in California should be the same in Oregon, Colorado or Florida. The ‘Standards of Practice’ and ‘Ethical Guidelines’ should be the same across every state line. There should be no questions or debates as to the role of the medical interpreter.
Just like a doctor or nurse, the medical interpreter is an integral part of the of the medical team that should have, and follow, universal standards to ensure quality patient care, and this will not happen, as we can see from history until we work together to force a change.
How to start? One idea, and I am sure there are many, is that Langauge agencies –the good ones– need to form a coalition and work together and force the agencies out that have initiated and perpetuated the race to the bottom. The Medical Profession, as a whole, needs to get more involved and demand that Medical Interpreters be recognized as part of the medical team with the costs covered like any other by insurance. Organizations such as NCIHC and IMIA should be working hand in hand with the agencies, interpreters and the medical profession to see these changes happen.
I have been in this profession for many years, and the issues and complaints are the same today as they were when I started –a lot of talk and little action. The only common denominator that I have seen is the failure to come together as one voice. Organizations with their agendas, States each with their laws and criteria, and the interpreter still caught in the middle. Will it ever change?
One organization, ‘The Interpreters Guild of America’ (IGA), a unit of the ‘Newspapers Guild and Communications Workers of America’ a 650,000-plus strong union, is bringing interpreters together. They are putting action behind their words and fighting for legislative changes at all levels. Although it has taken us a half-century to get to this point, at last, I see hope that someone (IGA) is standing up and saying this mess needs to stop and stop now. These changes are not going to happen, however, unless we all –interpreters, agencies and the medical profession, start working together.
David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Medical Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified medical interpreter whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.
David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.
A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.