Why are pre-sessions necessary?
Doctor: “Tell him to hop up on the exam table… Now, has he had these symptoms for a while? Ask him if he’s taken anything for it…” (Wait, why is the doctor talking to me and not the patient? What do I do now?)
Patient: “Oh dear, that doctor looks too young to be practicing medicine… Wait, did you just interpret this? Why would you do this?” (Oh no! Now the patient won’t trust me!)
If you are a professional medical interpreter, chances are that you have encountered similar situations. If you are only just starting out in the profession, somebody might have warned you about these things happening. Yes, on an ideal interpreting assignment, the doctor and patient speak in utterances of reasonable length and at a reasonable pace, not saying anything they wouldn’t want to be interpreted, all the while making eye contact and speaking directly to each other. In real life, things may not go so perfectly – and not because people involved don’t want us to do our jobs, but rather because they might not have worked with interpreters before and therefore might not know the best way to fully utilize the help of a professional interpreter. They might also have concerns about having another person present at a doctor’s appointment – one that is not wearing scrubs or a white coat and at first glance does not look like part of a healthcare team. As a result, patients might be reluctant to divulge sensitive information in the presence of an interpreter. The list goes on.
As interpreters going into a healthcare encounter, we can either hope that none of the above happens, or we can help ensure that conditions are created that enable us to interpret to the best of our abilities and allow us to do our job – that is, enable people to communicate as if they were speaking the same language. One way to make this happen is by having a pre-session.