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7 Ways to Reduce Your Stress as a Freelance Medical Interpreter

Updated on April 29, 2017
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Geri McClymont has been working as a medical interpreter since 2013 and obtained her certification through NBCMI in July 2015.

Keeping stress at bay is critical for being your best as a medical interpreter.
Keeping stress at bay is critical for being your best as a medical interpreter. | Source

A Challenging Career

I find my work as a freelance medical interpreter to be always interesting, at times exciting, and usually very personally gratifying.

The medical interpreter profession can also be highly stressful. Interpreting all communication accurately between the patient and medical provider for assignments that can last for hours is taxing.

Consider additional factors such as the occasional rude receptionist, impatient doctor, emotionally stressed patient, delicate medical diagnosis, being on your feet for long periods of time, driving through treacherous weather conditions, and often circling a hospital parking garage multiple times before finally finding a parking space just in time for your appointment!

Do you feel stressed working as a freelance medical interpreter?

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A Rewarding Career

I work as a medical interpreter because I love it.

I love the fact that I'm a bridge between the patient and the medical provider, relaying critical and even life-saving information back and forth between the parties. I love being an advocate for patients, speaking up for them when necessary. I love knowing that what I do makes a difference in their lives.

However, I've learned that to be at my best on the job, I must be intentional about the decisions I make each day.

Here's What's Essential for Keeping Stress at Bay as a Freelance Medical Interpreter

Allow yourself sufficient time to drive to each assignment.
Allow yourself sufficient time to drive to each assignment. | Source

(1) Allow Yourself Enough Time to Drive to Your Assignments

Never assume there will be little traffic and no accidents on any given day, and at any given time of day, when you're preparing to go to assignments.

Although we generally expect rush hour and lunch time to be the busiest times on the road, accidents happen anywhere and at any time, and if we encounter one, as the signs on the highway tell us, we can “expect delays.”

And don't assume that if a hospital parking garage is huge, you'll find a parking space right away. It often doesn't happen!

Spare yourself the unnecessary stress and leave your house with plenty of time to make it on time to your next assignment. It's better to give yourself more time on the road and arrive early than to give yourself less time and risk arriving late.

(2) Be Highly Organized

As contractors, our schedules fluctuate constantly and we're often called for assignments with very short notice (as in, within the hour). Being organized is paramount. Part of being organized is having a designated location for your resources for each day’s assignments. This means that before you head out the door each morning, you know exactly where to retrieve all you need.

I have a black portfolio case in which I keep all my daily materials: assignment sheets, medical dictionary, notepad and pens, smart phone, and any other items I know I'll need throughout the day.

Having an efficient filing system is just as critical, particularly when you're working for multiple language agencies.

When you're organized, you're not wasting time or energy stressing about where something is; your time and energy can be funneled into your actual work.

(3) Have Trusted Resources

As medical interpreters, many of us work across a wide range of specialties and, regardless of our level of education, we will inevitably come across unfamiliar medical terminology from time to time. Be prepared with resources you can rely on!

The two bilingual dictionaries I use most are the Spanish-English/English-Spanish Medical Dictionary, Fourth Edition by Glenn T. Rogers, MD (I take this one to all my assignments because of its smaller size) and the Spanish-English/English-Spanish Medical Dictionary, Fourth Edition by Onyria Herrera McElroy, PhD and Lola L. Grabb, M.A. (this one includes great images).

I also have a larger, more comprehensive medical dictionary at home which I mostly use for translation work, but also for cross-referencing terminology I come across frequently during my interpreting assignments.

To excel as an interpreter, it's essential to have trusted resources at your fingertips.

(4) Keep Your Car in Check

Most freelance interpreters spend a fair amount of time on the road, traveling from one assignment to the next, all across town, and sometimes farther.

Not long ago, I drove to an assignment that was normally a 40 minute drive on the interstate, but because of a bad snow blizzard, it took me more than twice as long as usual to get there and back. Good thing my car was in good shape!

Because you rely so much on your vehicle to get you to multiple locations throughout each day and because you'll often travel through treacherous road conditions, it's imperative to make sure your car is reliable. Keeping your tires in check (maintaining air pressure at optimum levels improves gas mileage), regular oil changes and general maintenance are musts. If you live in snowier climates, snow tires are a wise investment.

(5) Find a Way to De-Stress

As medical interpreters, we often find ourselves interpreting very delicate information: a doctor telling a patient that after viewing test results, his suspicion of cancer proved correct; a mother receiving the news that her unborn child has a serious heart condition and may require surgery hours after birth.

Because we're human, we are inevitably impacted at some level by these types of situations we're called to interpret for. While we're expected to remain composed during all interpreting scenarios, it's our responsibility to find ways to de-stress afterward so that we can continue to perform our jobs as well as possible.

I sometimes find quietness at the end of a long day to be very therapeutic. Other days, a long run outdoors is just what I need. Find what relaxes you. Maybe it's yoga, meditation, or hitting the gym.

Minimizing and simplifying are additional significant ways to reduce anxiety and stress in our everyday lives.

Taking care of your body leads to higher productivity on the job.
Taking care of your body leads to higher productivity on the job. | Source

(6) Live a Healthy Lifestyle

We all know it's important, but doing it isn't always easy. Living a healthy lifestyle often requires more planning and more time.

I used to argue that I don’t have time to make a salad, exercise, or get more sleep, but I now argue that I can’t afford to not do these things.

The price we pay for not taking care of our bodies is often high. We should view taking care of ourselves as an investment that will bring great returns, including increased energy, a greater sense of well-being and confidence, improved health, and higher productivity.

Part of a healthy lifestyle is having a strong support system – people who will be there for you when you need them.

It's important to stay current in your profession as a medical interpreter.
It's important to stay current in your profession as a medical interpreter. | Source

(7) Stay Current

It's easy to get so caught up in our work that we neglect to stay involved with our local medical interpeters' professional organization. Yet this is arguably the best way to stay current in our profession.

We have to be intentional about connecting with our colleagues, keeping up to date on medical terminology and procedures, and attending worthwhile workshops and conferences.

Staying current in our field gives us peace of mind that we we have the tools we need to give our best to patients, medical staff, and the language agencies we work for.

Ways to Reduce Stress and Relax Naturally

© 2015 Geri McClymont

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