What is the Difference Between a Medical Interpreter and a Medical Translator?

June 9, 2021

Many clinics rely on the services of Certified Medical Translators and interpreters. While both specialties are often confused, they do different jobs. Understanding the difference between these two services can help you choose who you need for your next interpretation or translation needs.

Medical Translation refers to the transfer of written information from one language to another. You may need medical translation services for patients whose primary healthcare provider speaks and writes in a different language than the specialist they referred to. The specialist may require a medical translation of the patient’s medical history to understand better the condition from which they suffer and address the health problem. On the other hand, a medical interpreter does a different job that involves transferring spoken or signed documents into another oral or signed document. Although both aspects may require skills that overlap, this is not to say that they are the same.

Also Read: Difference Between Hospital and Medical Center


A good medical translator must have an excellent oral and written understanding of the source and target languages. The same is required of a medical interpreter. However, these shared skills do not mean that a medical interpreter will be good at medical translation and vice versa.

Skills Required to Become a Medical Translator and Interpreter

The shared skills required to become a medical translator and interpreter include;

  • Excellent grasp of their working languages.
  • Understanding of the cultural differences between the origin and target languages.
  • In-depth medical knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
  • Understanding of medical terms and terminologies.
  • Knowledge of healthcare concepts.
  • Knowledge of ethical issues binding professionals in the medical field.

Medical Interpreters

Medical interpreters are required to have these skills to excel at their job:

  • The ability to work in reverse directions across the languages they have mastered.
  • Clear and easy-to-understand speech or sign language.
  • Understanding of language intonation, contexts, nuances, and dialects,
  • Strong interpersonal skills.
  • Fast and accurate note-taking skills.
  • Ability to understand and interpret non-verbal signs and cues.
  • Strong memory skills.
  • Strong listening skills.

Medical interpreters are expected to remain objective and independent at all times to ensure accurate delivery of their services. To ensure continued objectiveness, medical interpreters should avoid interpreting for their relatives and loved ones. Also, to succeed in this role, being bilingual is not the only requirement. An interpreter should interpret into both languages, forward and backward, to ensure that they get their clients the best services across the board.

Medical Translators

The job description of a medical translator is a lot different from an interpreter. The goal of a translator is to produce a perfectly translated written document that conveys the same information as in the original document. To ensure a perfect translation job, the translator is required to have an excellent grasp of both languages, the one they are translating from and the one they are translating into.

The process of translating a medical file or document varies. However, the basics remain the same. The translator must go through the original document, analyze the text, research, translate by paragraph, edit, and proofread for errors.

The core skills required to excel as a medical translator include;

  • Excellent writing skills and grasp of both languages
  • Understanding of core and important medical terminologies and concepts.
  • Project management skills.
  • Excellent proofreading and editing skills.
  • Access to important resources that can facilitate fact-checking.
  • Strong reading, research, and analysis skills.
  • Understanding and adept use of computer and translation technologies.

When a medical translator’s services are required, it is important to ensure that the second pair of professional eyes read through the document. You should provide the second pair of eyes with the original text and the final translated copy. Doing this will significantly improve the quality of the translated text. To save money on this, medical practitioners and individuals should hire medical translation agencies or companies. Most companies have more than one professional translator. They also have a quality checking process that ensures that the final document is perfectly translated.

Having understood the differences between these two professionals, one must also understand that medical translators and medical interpreters are often members of the same company or organization. This means that a company that offers medical translation services may also offer medical interpretation services. This essentially saves you time, money, and the stress of looking for other professionals to handle specific translation or interpretation needs.


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