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Should unqualified translators be permitted to translate medical/healthcare documents?
Thread poster: Cathy McCormick

Cathy McCormick
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:03
Member (May 2018)
German to English
+ ...
Jun 1

Should unqualified translators be permitted to translate medical/healthcare documents without the correct experience and medical qualifications?

This is something I have been thinking about lately as over the last year I have proofread a lot of medical documents translated by "unqualified" translators (by unqualified I mean that they have no medical/science degree or similar 9qualification), and some but not all (that needs stressing) make major mistakes when it comes to translating medical content.

Do any of you think it really important that translators have some sort of a relevant degree or is experience all that matters? Is it enough that a translator reads around the subject or should they be doing more? Is it necessary to have a qualification to translate lower tier documents such as doctors notes? What about case studies and published works like medical journals?

I'd love to know what you all think as I am currently considering doing some sort of a medical qualification in order to further my knowledge. Are there any qualifications that anyone could recommend? I'm thinking of starting one in September or the new year (2019) after I've completed my MA in Translation Studies.

Thanks in advance.


 

Debora d'Amato  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 09:03
English to Italian
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Not necessary a specialisation Jun 1

Honestly, as a Liaison interpreting and translation student, I think you don't need a particular specialisation in the medical field but, at the very least, you need a very important glossary concerning this sphere.

However, I guess that most of the translators, who commit to this kind of texts, haven't a medical degree but they just have learnt it over the time, probably with the help of someone close to them and having a minimum knowledge in the field.
My suggestion is that if you have the opportunity and the means to attend a course of medical translation, do it! Especially if you want to work in this branch.icon_smile.gif


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Caveat Emptor Jun 1

Should translators without some hands-on exp in engineering translate in the field? Should those who can't make butter still buy or resell it? As always, it depends; only the result matters.

The client decides whom to trust the project, how to assess it, and what to do with the result--at his own responsibility.

As for translators working out of their specialization, if they realize what they are doing (know the theory, have a glossary and someone to consult with), then it's ok for there should be no grave mistakes, just weird collocations, perhaps.

On the other hand, I agree that a specialist with foreign language skills is much better than an excellent linguist with mere theory background...


 

Katalin Szilárd  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 09:03
Member (2006)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
You answered your question Jun 1

Cathy McCormick wrote:

Should unqualified translators be permitted to translate medical/healthcare documents without the correct experience and medical qualifications?

This is something I have been thinking about lately as over the last year I have proofread a lot of medical documents translated by "unqualified" translators (by unqualified I mean that they have no medical/science degree or similar 9qualification), and some but not all (that needs stressing) make major mistakes when it comes to translating medical content.




Hi Cathy,

According to your CV you don't have a medical/science degree either.
So I don't understand the question. Because if you don't have a medical/science degree either and you still found major mistakes in medical translations (and if those major mistakes were verified by other experts or by the agency whom you were working for), then you answered your own question.icon_smile.gif

Bests,
Katalin

[Edited at 2018-06-01 19:11 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-06-01 19:27 GMT]


 

Cathy McCormick
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:03
Member (May 2018)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
More of a general question Jun 1

Hi Katalin,

It's more of a general question, as I am currently deciding whether to write my dissertation on this topic. I have some friends (fellow translators) who have mixed opinions on the topic and I thought it would be good to know what other translators thought.
I've come across some companies who prefer translators to have a medical degree or equivalent but others who only ask that the translator do a short test to show their knowledge and level of translation in the area.
I'm more interested to know whether you think it's a necessary requirement or if companies are asking too much?
I know that overall there are not many who have degrees in this specialist field who decide to translate for a living, so I want to know really why some companies ask for such requirements? However, then there is the argument that those who have a life sciences degree may have the knowledge of the subject but then lack the skills to produce a proper translation. Should those who have a life sciences degree and what to translate not have to have a degree in translation? I think it works both ways. Thoughts?
As stated I myself do not have a degree in medicine/sciences but am interested in doing a course or even a degree to further my knowledge so if anyone does know of any good courses that I could do I would appreciate the help!

Cathy


 

Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 08:03
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
My own experience Jun 1

Though economics was my “first love” (and my academic degree), medicine is now my preferred field of work. I started translating medical documents in 2002 when I was contacted by a medical doctor (a gynecologist) in order to co-translate for an American publisher a Gynecology and Obstetrics Handbook. I wouldn’t have accepted this project if my client wasn’t a medical doctor, but the fact is that I learned a lot and it opened the door to an area I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole before. Since then, we have worked together on other projects and she has referred me to other medical doctors, but whatever the subject matter I never accept a project without having a good look at it before. Medicine is a very large field and I don’t claim to be a specialist of any sort: one has to be honest with oneself and with others, and choose to work within one's own capabilities.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 09:03
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It is not the formal qualifications that make a professional Jun 1

Don't get me wrong, doing a formal training is usually a very good way to learn a job, and a medical training is the only way to be allowed to practise medicine. People trust medics with their lives, and they need to know that trust is not misplaced.

Medical training includes lots of real-life practice, however, and that is what makes a skilled professional, not the exams and the framed certificates on the wall.

The formal requirements for translating are not so strictly defined, but there are some good study programmes which can be a help. Again, what really makes a translator is knowing the subject area and its special language - in two languages, and practice. Translators do not need to know enough about anatomy to be surgeons, and they do not need to know enough about medicine to prescribe drugs.

They can - and should - read medical textbooks and study medicine in both their languages, but as translators they do not strictly need to pass exams in medicine. Life is too short for most people to take more than one formal academic education.

It depends what you mean by unqualified translators, and it depends what you mean by medical and healthcare documents. Most competent translators could take on the public information leaflets aimed at patients, and perhaps information about consent and the rights of subjects in clinical trials. Translating the reports and protocols or medical journals calls for specialists.

Anyone with an MA or postgraduate diploma in translation knows how to study, and most commit to CPD (continuing professional development) to keep up with their fields. They do not need to sit formal exams as medical translators, but you might call them 'unqualified', especially if they have not studied systematically enough or not studied the specific field of the text.

Equally, those with medical qualifications have to earn their living at some point, and will probably not have time for formal language qualifications. The fact that just being bilingual may be a help, but without training it does not automatically make a good translator has been discussed ad nauseam. Of course, it applies to medical professionals too.

Like Teresa Borges, language specialists can work with medical experts, and that is ideal. It is necessary to look at each translator individually, and see how (s)he performs. Many will know after looking at a text whether they are able to translate it well, or whether they are out of their depth.

Ask translators without formal qualifications how they study medicine and prepare for the task. Make allowances for the real professionals who modestly know their limitations and stay within them, but note how they answer, and you will be able to sort the translators you can trust from the ones who are really unqualified.



[Edited at 2018-06-01 22:20 GMT]


 

mariealpilles  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:03
Member (2014)
English to French
+ ...
Should unqualified translators be permitted to translate medical or healthcare documents? Jun 2

It is not so much a question of being 'unqualified' as of being a real professional. As a translator and interpreter, I am often asked to work in fields I am not a specialist in. In this case I make sure that I have the necessary glossary and if I come across something which is not clear, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and talk to a specialist. I definitely do not believe that those with a degree in medicine or biology are good translators in spite of the fact that they master the jargon, which incidentally is not the bulk of the work.

 

Yuri Radcev  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:03
Member (2012)
English to Russian
+ ...
There is no easy answer Jun 2

Translators, who are pure "linguists" would unanimously disapprove your approach, while those who come from another side - say, more or less experienced medical professionals,- would vote in favor. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.
Depending on the source complexity and authenticity maybe. Quite often, medical papers are full of professional slang words/phrases, allusions, etc, and one who is a stranger (but a nice linguist though) could easily be charmed and confused. On the other hand, some huge textbooks are full of some special "High English", which may become a serious challenge to a non-linguist, et ceters, et cetera.


 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 09:03
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
80-90% of translations are done by "unqualified" anyway Jun 2

How many translations are done by a professional that has a degree or equivalent education in that specific field?

 

finnword1
United States
Local time: 03:03
English to Finnish
+ ...
not required? Jun 2

I have seen manuals for medical instruments available for download that have been machine-translated and not even post-edited. It is my understanding that the European Union requires that there is a manual in the language of the country to which the instrument is imported. There is no standard for the quality, as long as it is "a manual". Pretty convenient, huh?

 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:03
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Ages-old question, and a simple answer Jun 2

Cathy McCormick wrote:
However, then there is the argument that those who have a life sciences degree may have the knowledge of the subject but then lack the skills to produce a proper translation.

Well, you kind of answered yourself to this ages-old question of whether a translation is best produced by an expert in the field who speaks the two languages or by a translator who knows about the subject matter. This has been a matter of debate ever since translation exists.

However long the discussion, the answer is very simple: the ideal translator is someone who understands the subject matter, knows the right words and phrases, knows regulations, and can produce an idiomatic, true translation that is clear and has the same effect as the source text. To me, qualifications are not really that important if the result is good, and in fact there are very reputable translators out there who are recognised leaders and in the field and have no university degree at all.

In my case, being a qualified translator, I always favour translators over specialists in the field, since translators have up-to-date tools (research capabilities, linguistic knowledge, computer-based translation tools, working practices, etc.) needed to translate properly and can learn (and in fact do) about a number of fields in their professional life.


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 01:03
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Other ways of learning Jun 2

There are other ways of learning than getting a medical degree. The latter involves a lot of practical training, exams, etc., which as a translator you don't really need. To do medical translation you could take a course in medical terminology or webinars (I think Proz offers some), read medical journals, etc. As a responsible translator you should know what your limits are and not hesitate to turn down a document is too 'technical'. I am lucky enough to have a translator colleague with a medical degree to refer to when that happens.

 

Lian Pang  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 09:03
Member (Mar 2018)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Thinking of getting one myself, but bear in mind Jun 2

I like the medical field, especially pathology. I am thinking of getting a micro master on MOOC.

In my opinion, while a degree is a very valuable asset, you don't necessarily need a medical degree to translate relevant documents. Background knowledge is a must, which can be built up by reading or taking some courses, but research competence is equally important. You need to know where to look and how to look when come across a terminology, and be very vigilant and careful . also get some help from a field specialist.

I have recently edited the website content of a well-known automobile company. The translator has a degree in the relevant field , i don't.I was merely provided a glossary. But the translation quality is really, really bad. 30+ critical-errors - within- one- page that kind of bad. Having a degree in a certain field doesn't necessarily guarantee translation quality. But without a decent amount of field knowledge, quality can't be guaranteed either.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:03
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Gaining experience Jun 4

Cathy McCormick wrote:

Do any of you think it really important that translators have some sort of a relevant degree or is experience all that matters?


If they cannot start translating medical documents, however will they gain experience?

As a PM, I used to outsource systematically to people with some kind of medical training. The translation was then proofread by a translator, who would then polish up the style while preserving the terminology.


 
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