Staying professional

10th May 2013

Imagine you’re a new girl at work. You come to an unknown environment, introducing yourself to everyone. They  are all friendly, ask you where you are from, whether you have children or not. It all comes out in conversation naturally. You get to know your clients, you talk about holidays, your husband’s bad habits and your favourite TV show. Before you know it you call your boss’s grandchildren by their names, you are familiar with your best client’s shoe size and your assistant’s health issues. Seems natural? Yes. But not professional.

A lot of face-to-face interpreters work with Pearl on a long-term basis interpreting for the NHS. They get to know the area of their work. They easily remember all the addresses of the surgeries they go to, they know which hospital departments are in which buildings and they also recognise the health professionals and patients’ names. That’s after a few months. After a year or two they know what their patients look like and vice versa. Clients recognise them without being told that an interpreter is waiting. They feel comfortable to see a familiar face. Now that can be really tricky.

I am sure that my fellow NHS face-to-face interpreters are put in uncomfortable situations as well, asked personal questions and, the most dreadful of all, their personal opinion on health issues. Working at Pearl means being professional. Under no circumstances are we allowed to advise our clients on medication, possible treatment, or choice of a health professional. We are not allowed to have personal discussions with clients in the waiting room over a cup of coffee. And here comes the tricky part: how to stay professional when over time you inevitably get to know your client?

Staying professional is everything but easy. A role of an NHS interpreter is much more complicated than a simple translation of words from source language to a target language. Interpreters also have to convey the mood the patient is in, cultural differences and by doing so we create a more comfortable atmosphere for a vulnerable adult to discuss their, very often personal, matters. It is very easy to cross the line and say ‘I once interpreted for a lady with a similar problem’ or ‘A friend of mine had the same course of treatment’. By doing so interpreters get involved and express their opinions on a subject they are not competent in.

How to stay professional and do not come across as rude or aloof? My friends once said to me ‘It’s a perfect job for you, you’re so talkative’. I am with them. But when it comes to my clients I do not share my private life or opinions on any medical issues. When they want to share their problems with me in a waiting room, I politely say that it’s best if we do that in the privacy of the doctor’s office. When they want to chat with me after the appointment I delicately suggest that I need to get to my next appointment on time. When they ask to use my services privately I firmly state it is against my contract.

All face-to-face interpreters at Pearl sign what we call a code of conduct. It states clearly that we must stay professional for everyone’s benefit. If you decide to use our services you can be sure that we are going to provide the service on the highest level possible, without being personal or inappropriate. That is what Pearl Linguistics is all about. Staying professional.

Ewa Siemion, Polish Interpreter (full time)


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