How much medical knowledge do you need for medical interpreting?
Thread poster: Elena Volkova

Elena Volkova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:36
English to Russian
+ ...
Jun 24, 2014

I have been approached about working as a consecutive interpreter at a dental conference where they are going to discuss treatment methods and new developments in the industry - which I imagine will be quite technical. I have done quite a bit of medical translation but never medical interpreting.

I have about 10 days to prepare and also have summaries from all speakers - is it feasible to gain enough knowledge to be able to interpret confidently and correctly in this particular field? It is going to be into my native language only, not the other way round.

Many thanks in advance for your views!

ETA: I have done interpreting before so here it's about the terminology.

[Edited at 2014-06-24 17:23 GMT]


Tim Friese  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:36
Member (2013)
Arabic to English
+ ...
You never really know, right? Jun 24, 2014

Your question is really hard to answer! What kind of answer are you expecting? "A lot"? "9/10"? What do such answers say?

I do frequent clinical medical interpreting and am often surprised by how little technical language is used, since providers try to speak in a generalist and non-specialist register with patients.

Clearly, a conference like you're looking at is going to be much harder, however it sounds like you have reasonably good prep materials. Those should help a lot. Remember that a lot of success in interpreting comes down not just to knowing something, but knowing it quickly and confidently. Practice your speed and confidence using word and phrase lists. Have someone read one of the summaries and practice interpreting it.

You should know better than anyone whether you're ready or not. Good luck, and remember that even the best interpreters get nervous before assignments!


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:36
Chinese to English
Difficulty is finding target language material Jun 25, 2014

You can find translations for most technical terms online, I'm sure. But how do Russian dentists actually talk? I'd be a bit wary of this because it can be quite hard to find materials that show how real non-English speaking subject specialists talk to each other. Most conferences are in English, and published material in other languages tends to be very formal. The kind of specialist but informal register you're looking for can be quite hard to track down. Any chance you can find a Russian dentist to chat with over the next few days?


jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:36
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Doctor appointment VS formal medical interpretation Jun 25, 2014

Actually interpreting for doctor appointment is not medical interpretation per se. It is just a general conversation involving a couple of names of symptoms and clinical or tests. You don't need to have much specialized knowledge to do a good job. On the other hand, conference interpreting on medical topics is very specialized, and probably you need to have attended medical school to do an acceptable job.


Natalie  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:36
Member (2002)
English to Russian
+ ...

In case you don't specialize in the field... Jun 25, 2014

... it would be better to decline the job offer. Dentistry is a highly specialized medical field, and in case you would need to interpret discussions about treatment methods, you would need not only know the terminology but also have a deep understanding of the methods, and the topic in general. 10 days is the term evidently too short to prepare for this. I am telling this as a medical translator with nearly 40 years of experience.


Kay Denney  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:36
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
oops Jun 25, 2014

Just reminds me of a student of mine when I was teaching English. Her husband asked her to ask me to translate a book about dentistry for him, because he couldn't understand the English.

I told her that I knew nothing about dentistry and barely understood the source.
She came back the next day to tell me that her husband said the words were mostly very similar in French so I didn't have to translate them, just to translate the grammar.

I declined, and I think that was a very wise decision.

Other than that, what Nathalie said.


LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:36
Russian to English
+ ...
To interpret at a dental symposium, Jun 25, 2014

You would most likely have to be a dentist or a dental student, at least--fully bilingual. To interpret at a dental appointment--for a patient--who wants implants, for example, you don't have to be such an expert--general medical knowledge might be enough, since you would be interpreting for a patient (a lay person) not another dentist.

[Edited at 2014-06-25 12:28 GMT]


Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:36
German to English
What if no Russian dentist conscecutive interpreter is available? Jun 25, 2014

If it is a direct client, then openly and honestly explain your qualifications and your concerns to them and tell them you are available and willing to do it (if that is the case), but that they should look to see if they can find someone better qualified in terms of the subject matter (you might be the best choice available).

I would also bid fairly high and invest a lot of time on research in Russian publications on dentistry, if you are selected.

If it is an agency (at least anything but a good agency specialized in medical or dental work), I would simply say no, because I would not trust an agency to take these issues seriously enough and to deal openly with the client.


Elena Volkova  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 17:36
English to Russian
+ ...
Thank you! Jun 25, 2014

Thank you all so much for your most useful comments!

Agree with every poster. Indeed, the client doesn't have anybody else right now. I spent some time yesterday trying to translate the reference material and although it was fine in terms of terminology and understanding of the subject matter it did also show me what sort of level of technical detail I could expect.

So in the end I did just what Michael recommended - expressed my interest to the client, outlined my past experience in medical translation (always with positive feedback) and explained that in some specialized discussions might not provide a 100% accurate interpreting due to lack of medical training.

Now waiting to hear from them - will report with an update.


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:

You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

How much medical knowledge do you need for medical interpreting?

Advanced search

Déjà Vu X3
Try it, Love it

Find out why Déjà Vu is today the most flexible, customizable and user-friendly tool on the market. See the brand new features in action: *Completely redesigned user interface *Live Preview *Inline spell checking *Inline

More info »
PerfectIt consistency checker
Faster Checking, Greater Accuracy

PerfectIt helps deliver error-free documents. It improves consistency, ensures quality and helps to enforce style guides. It’s a powerful tool for pro users, and comes with the assurance of a 30-day money back guarantee.

More info »

  • All of
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search