When it comes to ensuring that people receive the highest quality health care possible, it’s absolutely vital that patients clearly understand and communicate back and forth with their doctors. This can be a challenge when patients and health care professionals speak different languages, which is why medical translating and interpreting is a growing segment of the translation industry.

Although many people tend to think of translating and interpreting as the same job, they’re really quite different. Both medical translators and interpreters have the same goal – to help facilitate clear communication between patients and health care professionals – but each has a distinctly different manner of doing it. Interpreters work onsite (typically in hospitals or other medical facilities) to translate conversations between patients and their providers. On the other hand, translators work with documentation (informational brochures, patient instructions, etc.), translating them into the desired language so that patients have a clear understanding of the information presented. While interpreters must usually be physically present to perform their jobs, translators can work from virtually anywhere. But interpreters and translators have something else in common: both must be trained linguists with a firm knowledge of medical terminology, which makes this a highly specialized area of the translation industry.

As our population becomes increasingly diverse and the number of different languages spoken within the U.S. continues to increase, so does the need for medical interpreters and translators. Aside from the obvious need for these professionals, medical providers are actually required to employ interpreters before they can receive any federal funding.

The diversity of our population is often apparent within hospitals and other health care facilities. Studies indicate that about 21 percent of U.S. residents speak a language other than English at home, and many of those rate their own English-speaking skills as below average. Many of the elderly people who fall into this category are also the people most likely to interact with health care professionals, making the need for medical translators and interpreters quite obvious. Languages spoken by these individuals vary depending on where they live in the U.S. and which ethnic groups are most populous in those areas, but some of the most common are Spanish and Chinese, along with other Asian languages such as Vietnamese and Korean. Russian speakers and people who normally converse in African languages are also in need of translation and interpreting services.

Although this situation may present challenges, there is plenty of good news. Fortunately, there is an ample number of trained, experienced linguists who specialize in the medical field. And if you are a translator or interpreter contemplating which industry to become involved in, the medical field presents abundant opportunities for you to build a solid career with a promising future.