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What is a Medical Translator?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2017
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It should be understood that a medical translator is not a medical interpreter. Interpreters work in real time settings with patients who do not speak the country’s main language. They work alongside doctors who may need to ask questions and give directions, and the interpreter must translate both questions and answers so that medical care remains consistent, despite the language barrier. A medical translator has a very different job, and works to translate text medical materials, as usually designed for patients, from one language into another. This work is often done on computers in either offices or in the home setting.

Much of the work a medical translator can do is translating things like brochures, patient directions or patient questionnaires into another language. This isn’t always simple because patient literature sometimes uses commonly understood or idiomatic expressions in a main language that won’t directly translate into another. Patient brochures are typically inviting, amusing or informative work that may help people understand a specific medicine, treatment of a disease or services available for things like weight loss, quitting smoking and others.

Keeping a similar tone while making sure that the work is translated appropriately is almost like rewriting something. It requires more than proficiency in both the language that something is already written in and the language to which it will be translated. Some translators may write and speak fluently in several languages, which may increase their possibility for work.

The medical translator also must have some familiarity with medical terms in languages, as these are sometimes part of patient literature. Familiarity with terms must extend to each language the translator knows in order to accurately transform written materials. People may need to do some studying on their own or find classes that teach medical terminology in several languages.

Most people who work in this field come to it with strong writing skills and at minimum bachelor’s degree work in at least one foreign language. Yet studying in a school is often not enough to arrive at true fluency. People may also have spent time in other countries so they could learn to speak different languages. Alternately, they may have backgrounds where this occurred naturally. People who have lived all over the world may be fluent in several languages, and when paired with strong writing skills, they might consider medical translation.

Some people enjoy working as a medical translator because it can mean self-employment. Yet this employment isn’t necessarily consistent. Those who want dependable full-time work may work at colleges or public schools, or for hospitals. State and federal government agencies employ some medical translators, too. Some translators may also work as interpreters, and the US Bureau of Labor suggests growing demand for both professions.

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