Blog post by Laura

Last week’s article on our blog stirred the pot in the small community of medical translators where we shared it.

There were many voices identifying concerns about quality, knowledge, the use of medical dictionaries and research, translators accepting to translate everything even if they are not specialised in that field, and the list can go on.

So, considering all of the great comments we received, last week’s article and this test that we did, here are some tips for beginner medical translators.

1. Become a specialised medical translator before translating medical texts
We keep talking about ‘being specialised’, translating only in the domains we master, but we all have to start somewhere. So, if you want to become a medical translator, have your translation revised by other professional medical translators, or by a physician. Which takes me to the following idea.

2. Work with a team of professionals
It’s always a good idea to work with other medical translators and to include physicians, nurses, technicians and other medical staff in your translation network. You will be surprised how fast an extremely challenging term can be found when you can text message someone from your network.

3. Avoid translating medical texts if you don’t master the domain
If you don’t want to specialise in the medical domain, then don’t. But every time a client needs a medical translation, the best thing you can do is to refer them to a professional medical translator in your network.
If you are a medical translator and you don’t master a particular medical field, you can do the same, or you can start learning more about the field by working with professionals and having your translation revised.

4. Do your research and use medical dictionaries
Translating medical texts could involve reading 2 pages of medical procedures to figure out one term, studying the anatomy of a particular organ or reading about the right voltage of an electrosurgery probe. Take your time and read as much as you need, until you are sure that you found ‘the perfect match’, and don’t ‘forget’ untranslated words in the final translation thinking that ‘ah, they will understand anyway’.

Buy a good medical dictionary and use it. It will save you time.

5. Use a translation brief for every translation you make
We were stunned when we ‘bought’ 3 medical translations that none of the translators asked us what the purpose of the translation was, what was the source of our text, why did it have no context at all, if we preferred a specific terminology, etc.

Find out everything you need from the client’s mouth. What? Where? How? For what purpose? 

If your client is a physician, you can ask them for specific or preferred terminology. 

Have a broad image of the situation before you start translating. In some cases, such a translation brief  can help your client save some money by simply having them find out what documents absolutely need a translation. Blood, urine and stool tests use international abbreviations and will anyway be repeated before surgery, if necessary.

6. Use CAT tools
After doing your research, it’s good to have a reliable translation memory at hand every time you start translating. Again, it will save you time, but most importantly, it will help you keep consistent.

7. DON’T use automated translation programs for medical translations

 Or, in other words,… DON’T! Have a look here for more details on this subject.

8. Desensitise Yourself
When translating medical texts, you will find out and see images or videos that are not for the faint-hearted. Not always, of course. 

You will become less impressionable and more focused on what you have to do. That doesn’t mean you have to lose all your empathy, but it will help you keep your mind clear when translating.

In the end, your only thought must be: I can contribute to the health of this person, I can help them get their hope back on track.

*Pro tip: when looking for surgery videos, add ‘animated’ to your search. The animations are usually clearer and less scary.

9. Ask a fair price for you and the client
Ah, the price issue! Medical translations aren’t and shouldn’t be cheap. 

If they are, that means that the quality is not good. I know, it sounds very harsh, but my experience in the field proved me right every time. 

If your client doesn’t have enough money to pay for the translation, you can consider doing two pages for free or rallying your colleagues and translating the whole document for free. Or, you can charge less, of course, but if you translate for a living, you will not afford to do that every time a client needs your services.

The price issue is closely related to your desensitisation, your skills, the time you spend with research, the revision, the deadline, and other aspects you consider relevant.

10. Keep a professional relationship with your client
We’re humans, and we care about our peers, but as a medical translator, you have to keep the focus on what you have to do and avoid feeling pity for your clients. They don’t need that. All they need is your professional help. 

So, keep a professional attitude, don’t invite them to be your friends on Facebook only to see if they got better. They will come back with feedback if they want to.

Being a medical translator can be challenging but can bring loads of satisfaction. 

At the end of the day, you can tell yourself: I am a medical translator, what’s your superpower?

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