Interpreting in health care means working across a broad range of medical settings which include, but are not limited to:
• standard consultations with a general practitioner
• complex consultations with a general practitioner
• consultations with specialists
• emergency situations at hospitals
• in-patient care at hospital
• ancillary health situations (e.g. physiotherapists, occupational therapists, etc.)
• acute mental health care
• mental health interpreting, including treatment by psychologists
• dental care

A health care interpreter needs to be very familiar with anatomy as well as with the types of lexical items which are used in a medical consultation. This does not mean that every possible medical term needs to be known by a health care interpreter; rather that the health care interpreter will have a broader range of knowledge about the body, its functions, types of abnormalities or illnesses that can occur and how the medical profession talks about these to lay people.

As well, a health care interpreter also needs to be able to use Auslan linguistic structures to create highly visual interpretations of the English used in medical settings. This needs to be augmented with fingerspelling in order for the Auslan user to have the name of his or her specific diagnosis as well as the body parts associated with the diagnosis. However, fingerspelling alone of these terms is insufficient.

In addition, a health care interpreter needs to be comfortable with exposure to medical procedures – everything from drawing blood to surgery – as well as potentially unpleasant aspects of the human body, including nauseating smells and how the body of a very ill person may be malfunctioning.

Finally, it is essential that interpreters working in health care have the resources to manage communication of adverse diagnoses and end-of-life conversations. Whilst much of the work of a health care interpreter does not involve work at this extreme end of the spectrum, it is necessary for the interpreter to always be mentally prepared. It is often at a GP appointment that a patient is first given a diagnosis of serious illness.

In mental health interpreting – a specialised area of health care interpreting, it is necessary to be able to manage communication that can be confusing, dysfluent, offensive and potentially traumatising. For more information about interpreting in mental health settings, Click here for guidelines on ASLIA’s Mental Health.