2 Easy Steps to Prepare for Your Medical Interpreting Assignment

You’ve just received a last-minute request to interpret at a local hospital. Unfortunately, you only have 10 minutes to prepare for your assignment and limited information to draw from:

  • Patient name – David Reyes
  • Location – Cath Lab
  • Estimated length of assignment: 4 hours

Make the most of your available 10 minutes by following the simple Orient and Predict technique below. All you’ll need is a smartphone, tablet, or computer with Internet access.

  1. Orient Yourself

What is a Cath Lab and what procedures are done there? You will get answers to both questions by searching Google:

“most common procedures in cath lab”

Looking for the most common illness treated, procedures performed, or reasons for visiting a particular hospital department will increase your chances of getting information that applies to your assignment. Even if the patient is to have a different procedure, you will at least have a reference point to compare it to more common related procedures.

Your results to the search text above include a summarization of a Wikipedia article:

Usually, the first few items listed are the most common procedures. Take the first two or three items, keywords only, and go to the second most popular search engine on the Internet, YouTube, to search:

“angiography angioplasty”

I find that videos produced by hospitals to educate and inform patients are the most helpful. They very often outline the key steps of a procedure in the same language that health care providers use when talking with patients.

Your search turns up many results, including one near the very top published by Sunnybrook Hospital:

If you are already familiar with the topic, you can increase the effectiveness of the next step by interpreting the video simultaneously to yourself and noticing where you have difficulties.

  1. Predict Difficulties

Videos routinely provide much more useful information for interpreters than dry articles, as they demonstrate elements in context. We see the room, the equipment, the tools, the hospital staff, and the way the staff communicate with each other and the patient. We see where everyone and everything stand in relation to each other, what they’re wearing, and under what time frame they are working.

Learn what you can generally expect on the assignment, but pay particular attention to where you might encounter problems. This will produce the best results from your prediction session.

Use the video and your prediction skills to be ready for issues that might arise. Consider the following questions to get the ball rolling.


  • What cultural issues might arise?
  • What situations might require cultural brokering?


  • How might the patient’s position/condition affect the interpreter’s positioning?
  • What equipment might you need to work around?

Logistical considerations are extremely important for ASL interpreters who must be seen by the patient for communication to occur.


  • What regional vocabulary might you need to be aware of?
  • What medical terms are likely to come up during the assignment?

Prepopulate your notepad with terms you are less familiar with but are likely to interpret. Many languages have equivalent terms for procedures and equipment that we need to know. Having trained hundreds of medical interpreters, I’ve noticed that many new Spanish interpreters often have to research the Spanish equivalent for the English word ‘stent’.

When pinched for time, this 10-minute Orient and Predict technique can have a huge impact on the quality of your work.

Many interpreters have their own favorite websites for finding definitions of medical terms, procedures, illnesses, and a range of other topics. Having the ones you use most often bookmarked in your web browser can save time from scouring search engine results.

Other interpreters tend to recommend the best resources. Share your favorite resource links in the comments below.

One free resource I would recommend is this training: Infection Control and Industrial Safety for Medical Interpreters