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Getting Your (Interpreter) Foot in the Door

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A common question from untrained interpreters is: “If I take a medical interpreter training course, can I get hired at a hospital?” The simple answer to this question is yes, but there’s a lot more to it.

According to the 2016 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Interpretation and translation is one of the fastest growing professions in the country. But here’s the interesting thing: Interpretation as a teachable and crucial skill-set is still a relatively new concept. In the past, healthcare providers would grab a neighbor, sister, cousin or friend to assist with communication. It was the default solution. Not anymore.

“I Just Got Qualified. What’s Next?”

Recent changes in legislation have banned the use of unqualified interpreters and tightened the reins on language access standards. And yet, there is minimal information about how to start an interpretation career and what to expect if you are a beginner. Getting trained is the first step, but many qualified individuals complete their course and think: What’s next?

My colleague Stephanie laughs when she recounts the day she went straight to the closest major hospital after she graduated from a 40-hour course. She proudly handed her cover letter and certificate to the woman at the front desk of the language services department. The administrator very kindly informed Stephanie that she was not quite ready. She explained that the general requirement was two years of experience.

It is common for new interpreters to start their careers as contractors. As a contractor, you work on an as-need basis for multiple interpretation agencies who partner with hospitals in your area. Stephanie worked for three agencies in her first two years as a professional interpreter. These agencies had contracts with major hospitals, as well as clinics, doctor’s offices, rehab facilities and local school districts.

The experiences you gain as a contractor are invaluable. As a new interpreter, you must practice a brand-new skill set. You must continue to broaden your medical vocabulary, deepen your understanding of interpreter protocol and ethics, familiarize yourself with the “flow” of a hospital, and most importantly, you must develop your confidence.

It is important to note that staff interpretation is not always the end-goal. At ALTA, we know interpreters who prefer to work as contractors. Freelancing has its benefits, and we talk about that in our interpreter training course. For speakers of rare languages, this is more common than working as a staff interpreter with regular hours.




A Disconnect: Interpreter Training & Employment

We’ve been asking ourselves: What can we do as a company to support our interpretation communities and develop a highly skilled workforce? How can we help new interpreters better understand the realities of breaking into this field?

At ALTA, we’ve recognized a disconnect between interpreter training and employment. We want to serve our students by providing tips on how to get started. We often tell our graduates to get their foot in the door by applying to local agencies. ALTA equips our learners with resources, categorized by state. Additionally, we launched a Breaking Boundaries in Healthcare® alumni group in 2017. Our goal is to create a space where our graduates can advise and support one another.

We recognize that there is still a lot to be done and it’s our mission to further professionalize the field of interpretation. We are committed to doing the work. Stay tuned!

Marge Curtis is a born and raised Midwesterner who moved to Atlanta in 2011. Her educational background in sociology/anthropology fostered her passion for working with people, language and culture. Prior to her role at ALTA, Marge served for 3 years at Culture Connect, an organization that provided language services and interpreter training. There, she worked in three departments; cultivating a holistic knowledge of what it means to formalize interpretation skills, recognize talent, and support workforce development. Marge currently serves as Executive Director in the Interpreter Training department at ALTA Language Services.

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