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Understanding the Work of Designated Healthcare Interpreters

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Abstract

Interpreters who work regularly with a deaf health professional are often referred to, in the U.S., as designated healthcare interpreters (DHIs). To date, there have not been any systematic studies that specifically investigate the work of DHIs, yet the number of deaf people pursuing careers in the health professions continues to grow (Zazove et al., 2016), and the number of qualified DHIs to work with these professionals is insufficient (Gallaudet University, 2011). Before educational programming can be effectively developed, we need to know more about the work of DHIs. Using a job analysis approach (Brannick, Levine, & Morgeson, 2007), we surveyed DHIs, asking them to rate the importance and frequency of their job tasks. The results indicated that the following task categories are relatively more important: fosters positive and professional reputation, impression management; demonstrates openness to unpredictability; and builds and maintains long-term relationships with others. Tasks rated as more frequently performed included: dresses appropriately; decides when and what information to share from the environment; uses healthcare-specific knowledge; and demonstrates interpersonal adaptability. We discuss the results of the importance and frequency of the tasks of DHIs and consider the implications for education and future research.
International Journal of Interpreter Education, 8(1), 40-56. © 2016 Conference of Interpreter Trainers
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Understanding the Work of
Designated Healthcare Interpreters
Laurie Swabeyi 1, Todd S. K. Agan2, Christopher J. Moreland2, and Andrea M. Olson1
1St. Catherine University, 2University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Abstract
Interpreters who work regularly with a deaf health professional are often referred to, in the U.S., as
designated healthcare interpreters (DHIs). To date, there have not been any systematic studies that
specifically investigate the work of DHIs, yet the number of deaf people pursuing careers in the health
professions continues to grow (Zazove et al., 2016), and the number of qualified DHIs to work with these
professionals is insufficient (Gallaudet University, 2011). Before educational programming can be
effectively developed, we need to know more about the work of DHIs. Using a job analysis approach
(Brannick, Levine, & Morgeson, 2007), we surveyed DHIs, asking them to rate the importance and
frequency of their job tasks. The results indicated that the following task categories are relatively more
important: fosters positive and professional reputation, impression management; demonstrates openness to
unpredictability; and builds and maintains long-term relationships with others. Tasks rated as more
frequently performed included: dresses appropriately; decides when and what information to share from
the environment; uses healthcare-specific knowledge; and demonstrates interpersonal adaptability. We
discuss the results of the importance and frequency of the tasks of DHIs and consider the implications for
education and future research.
Keywords: designated interpreter; deaf healthcare professional; sign language interpreting; interpreter education;
job analysis, designated healthcare interpreter
i Correspondence to: laswabey@stkate.edu
Designated Healthcare Interpreters
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Understanding the Work of
Designated Healthcare Interpreters
1. Introduction
The physician and signed language interpreter enter the examination room where the patient is waiting to be seen
for a persistent cough. Most people would assume that the patient in this scenario is deaf. However, in an
increasing number of healthcare settings, the provider is deaf, not the patient. Interpreter education has generally
focused on situations where the deaf person is the patient and is accessing services provided by a relatively
powerful specialist who can hear. However, this situation is reversed, to a certain extent, when the deaf person is a
clinician. How does this rearrangement of the typicaltriadic encounter influence the interpreter’s work in the
healthcare setting? What is different about interpreting for the person in power? How are decision making and role
performance affected? What can we learn about educating interpreters to work with deaf healthcare professionals
that will also inform how we educate interpreters to work in the community with deaf people who are not in a
position of power?
To date, there have not been any systematic studies that specifically investigate the work of these interpreters,
often called designated healthcare interpreters (DHIs). Further, the interpreting profession has not yet defined the
scope and nature of the DHI’s work, and standards of practice have not been determined for this specialty. For our
study, we are defining a DHI as an interpreter who works regularly (consistently over a period of time) with a deaf
healthcare professional (DHP) or a student pursuing education in healthcare; uses knowledge gained in the setting
about content and participants to contribute to the effectiveness of the interpretation; is familiar with the goals of
the DHP or student as well as with their communication style and preferences; and develops a level of rapport and
trust over time that enhances the overall interpretation.
The purpose of our study was to better understand the work of the DHI, using a job analysis approach. Job
analysis is a set of methods and processes “directed toward discovering, understanding, and describing what
people do at work” (Brannick, Levine, & Morgeson, 2007, p. 1). Applications of job analysis include developing
education and training, as well as describing jobs and conducting job performance appraisals. Given the increase
in the number of DHPs, and the importance of full communication access, further understanding of DHIs’ work is
crucial in order to effectively educate, hire, and evaluate interpreters in this specialized area. Moreover, in order
to develop and carry out major initiatives related to educating DHIs, the work of DHIs first needs to be clearly
understood, by both practitioners and educators.
Below, we provide a brief overview of the increase in DHPs and the corresponding need for DHIs, followed
by a summary of designated interpreting in the workplace, with a focus on the healthcare setting. Next, we
consider the role of interpreters, both as conventionally enacted by community interpreters, as well as by
designated healthcare interpreters. At the end of this section, the work task domains of healthcare interpreting are
introduced as they apply to the current study.
1.1. Deaf Healthcare Professionals
Both legislation mandating equal access and technological advances are fueling an increase in the number of deaf
people pursuing education and employment in a variety of health-related specialties (Zazove et al., 2016). Visual
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and amplified stethoscopes, real-time captioning, healthcare portals allowing communication via text,
telemedicine, see-through surgical masks, video interpreting and a variety of smartphone appsall are advances
that enhance access for DHPs and students in the health professions. This increase is positive for many reasons,
one of which is that deaf clinicians appear more likely than the typical healthcare provider to serve deaf people, a
medically underserved community (Moreland, Latimore, Sen, Arato, & Zazove, 2013).
However, in examining healthcare career opportunities for people who are deaf, the Task Force on Health Care
Careers for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Community (2011) identified the need for a sufficient supply of
qualified, available interpreters to meet the demand created by the surge of deaf individuals pursuing careers in
healthcare. Deaf physicians’ and medical students’ satisfaction with accommodations used during their training
and practice correlated positively with career satisfaction and their likelihood of recommending medicine as a
career to other deaf and hard-of-hearing people (Moreland et al., 2013). Thus, for those who work with
interpreters, the quality of their relationships with interpreters, as well as the quality of the interpretation services,
may contribute to the deaf physicians’ career longevity and thus to the health of the deaf community (Barnett,
McKee, Smith, & Pearson, 2011; McKee, Smith, Barnett, & Pearson, 2013).
1.2. Designated Interpreters in the Workplace
There is a small but growing body of research on interpreters in the workplace, although little is directly focused
on the healthcare setting. In their seminal work, Hauser, Finch, and Hauser (2008) popularized the term
designated interpreter (DI) for those interpreters who specifically work with deaf professionals (DPs). They
proposed the deaf professionaldesignated interpreter model as a new interpreting paradigm, based on the
collection of designated interpreterdeaf professional pairs that contributed to their edited volume. Themes
underlying these DPDI relationships included mutual trust and respect; the participation of the DI in the DP’s
environment; specialized knowledge of content, terminology, and social roles; continual training/updating by the
DI in the specialized area of the DP; the DI as an active part of the team; divergence from the view of the
interpreter as “neutral”; and the DI as integrated into the workplace over time.
In her studies of interpreters in the workplace, Dickinson (2014) identifies that the intense working
relationship (that develops over time) between an interpreter and deaf professional inevitably influences the role
and boundaries of the interpreter. Miner (2015) investigated the roles, relationships, and responsibilities of DIs.
She found that the role of the DI varied immensely depending on who the interpreter worked with, the setting, and
the personalities involved. There were some commonalities among the participants in her study, including the
importance of facilitating relationships, creating shared understandings, the ability to communicate quickly and
easily with each other, and meeting high expectations, with some expectations considered unusual when compared
to the more traditional role of the community or conference interpreter.
1.3. Designated Interpreters in the Healthcare Setting
Two DHIDHP teams have published accounts of their work together (Earhart & Hauser, 2008; Moreland &
Agan, 2012). Some aspects of the work they describe apply to any type of interpreting in the healthcare setting,
such as patient safety; managing auditory and visual cues in a crowded and noisy room; interacting with members
of a healthcare team; comprehending and using medical terminology; and tolerating the sights, sounds and smells
of a hospital setting. They also highlight some expectations of the DHI’s work, which may differ from those of the
community healthcare interpreter, including: interpreting auditory information from medical devices; interpreting
urgent PA announcements for staff members (e.g., code blue); long hours reflecting the lengthy shifts often
worked by healthcare professionals; understanding and producing a register appropriate for interactions among
healthcare providers; and managing a pace that may include running to an emergency situation or navigating a
situation that requires quick, precise coordination between healthcare professionals (Earhart & Hauser, 2008;
Moreland & Agan, 2012). Although these two accounts are from DHPDHI teams, deaf professionals work in a
variety of healthcare specialties that presumably will include other demands not yet documented in the literature.
DHIs also interpret for students at different stages of their professional training and may face different demands
depending on the requirements of each deaf student’s educational and clinical experiences.
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In addition to clinical encounters, DHIs must negotiate a myriad of other situations that occur in offices,
hallways, classrooms or conference rooms. Social interactions in the workplace, both formal and informal, are an
integral part of the designated interpreter’s work, whatever the setting (Dickinson, 2014; Miner, 2015). Unique
aspects of the work of DHIs pose interpreting demands beyond those of deaf professionals in the workplace, and
these have not yet been fully explored (Swabey & Nicodemus, 2011).
1.4. Role and boundaries
Although some DHI tasks diverge from that of the community interpreter, the available literature suggests that
DHIs’ work reflects the values and guidelines for professional behavior as described in the Registry of Interpreters
for the Deaf (RID) Code of Professional Conduct (CPC, available at rid.org/ethics/code-of-professional-conduct/).
The current CPC is more holistic in nature and less prescriptive in terms of specific behaviors than previous
iterations (Cokely, 2000; Hoza, 2003), and presents principles as guidelines for interpreting in legal, educational,
medical, and social service settings, among others. Further, there is ample evidence in the discourse-based
literature that the interpreter is neither neutral nor invisible, but in fact an active participant within an interpreted
interaction (Angelelli, 2004; Llewellyn-Jones & Lee, 2014; Metzger, 1999; Wadensjo, 1998; Roy, 2000), which
varies depending on the situation and context. Llewellyn-Jones and Lee specifically describe how the interpreter’s
role may expand or contract in three areas: presentation of self, interaction management, and participation
alignment. They dispel the common myth that interpreters who interact in any way beyond relaying messages are
stepping out of role.They argue that interaction management is part of the interpreter’s role and that a number
of factors about an interaction need to be considered when determining the participation of the interpreter. Thus in
the context of the DHIDHP relationship, the decisions such as those in the following examples are within the
guidelines of the CPC:
agreeing, as appropriate, to pass along information from a (hearing) doctor to the (deaf) doctor or vice
versa (CPC, Tenet 3)
taking an object from a hearing nurse that needs to be thrown away in a crowded treatment room where
the DHP and DHI are working with a team (CPC, Tenet 2)
answering a nonclinical question on behalf of the DHP when she or he is not present, perhaps related to
scheduling (CPC, Tenet 3).
1.5. Work Task Domains of Healthcare Interpreters
In a previous study, Olson & Swabey (in press) investigated the work task domains of ASLEnglish interpreters
who work in situations where the patient is deaf and the healthcare provider can hear. In an online survey with 339
respondents, healthcare interpreters rated the frequency and importance of job tasks. The top five task categories
with the highest average importance ratings were language and interpreting, situation assessment, ethical and
professional decision making, managing the discourse, and monitors/manages/coordinates appointments. The task
categories with the highest average frequency ratings were dress appropriately, adapt to a variety of physical
settings and locations, adapt to working with variety of providers in variety of roles, deal with uncertain and
unpredictable work situations, and demonstrate cultural adaptability.
2. Methods
2.1. Participants
One of the challenges of this research is that there is no reliable information regarding the number of designated
healthcare interpreters; Because there is no national registry for this speciality, nor even reliable information
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regarding the number of DHIs, recruiting participants for this research posed a challenge. We sent e-mails with a
link to the survey to a list of healthcare interpreters who had signed up to receive e-mails from a regional and/or
national interpreter education center about matters related to healthcare interpreting. We also used a snowball
sampling technique; we asked people we contacted to forward the e-mail to other DHIs they knew. Anyone with
designated healthcare interpreting experience as invited to participate in this study; this was the key selection
criterion. An invitation to participate was also posted on the closed Facebook group Interpreters in Healthcare RID
Member Section, a special interest group of RID. A link to the survey was also shared with Association of
Medical Professionals with Hearing Loss members, encouraging them to notify DHIs about the survey.
Twenty-two DHIs responded to the survey. See Table 1 for background information on the participants.
Table 1: Background information on participants
Characteristic
n
%
Gender
Male
1
4.5
Female
21
95.5
Race/ethnicity
White, Non-Hispanic/Latino
21
95.5
Hispanic/Latino
1
4.5
Age
26 45
11
50.0
46 65
11
50.0
Degree
Associate’s or high school degree
5
22.7
Bachelor’s
12
54.5
Master’s or doctorate
5
22.7
Nationally Recognized Interpreter Certifications
Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID)
17
77.3
National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
3
13.6
Board for Evaluation of Interpreters (BEI)
2
9.1
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2.2. Measure and Procedure
Using job analysis methods (Brannick, Levine, & Moregeson, 2007), the research team (including an experienced
DHPDHI team) identified designated healthcare interpreting work tasks based on previous research on healthcare
interpreting (see Olson & Swabey, in press), input from DHIs in the field, and a review of DHI position
descriptions. Some of the relevant task domains of healthcare interpreters reflected “adaptive performance,”
which we believed would also be relevant for DHIs. Dimensions of adaptive performance are “handling
emergencies or crisis situations; handling work stress; solving problems creatively; dealing with uncertain and
unpredictable work situations; learning work tasks, technologies and procedures; demonstrating interpersonal
adaptability; demonstrating cultural adaptability; and demonstrating physically oriented adaptability” (Pulakos,
Arad, Donovan, & Plamondon, 2000, p. 617).
From this work, we included additional categories we thought would be relevant to DHIs: adapts to pace and
pace changes in work, adapts to variable schedule, and adapts to working with variety of providers in variety of
roles. Given the team-based nature of healthcare, we included working as a member of a team. Dimensions of
team-member performance used for this study were based on previous research of individual team-member
performance (Olson, 2000), with slight modifications: fulfilling team-related task responsibilities; situation
awareness, or paying attention to the environment; consideration; monitoring performance; team-relevant problem
solving; sharing task information with team members; coordinating tasks; helping team members, as in back-up
relief; initiating structure; training team members; and teaching/training others.
From these sources, we created our survey. In the first part of the survey, 35 questions explored the
participants’ work experience as interpreters (in general) and as DHIs, specific types of work settings in which
they had experience as an interpreter and specifically as a DHI, and certification, training, and demographic
variables, including gender, race, age, and education. For the purposes of this study, healthcare includes physical,
mental, and dental health. Settings include hospitals, clinics, home healthcare, and healthcare educational
institutions. Response scales for these items varied; they included multiple choice options, check boxes, drop-
down options, and open-ended items.
In the second part of the survey, we listed 200 individual work tasks. On the researchers’ end, the tasks were
organized into 49 categories (see Appendix A); so that the category names (e.g. “interpreting”) would not bias
participants, these were not included in the survey. For each task, participants were asked to indicate how
important the task was to performing their work as DHIs (responses: 1 = not at all important, 2 = somewhat
important, 3 = important, 4 = very important, 5 = extremely important, and NA) and how frequently they
performed the task in their work as DHIs (responses: 1 = never, 2 = once a year or more but not every month, 3 =
once a month but not every week, 4 = once a week or more but not every day, 5 = every day, and NA).
3. Results
3.1. Work-related Experience
Participants had an average of 17.70 (SD = 8.80) years of experience interpreting and an average of 13.45 (SD =
8.90) years experience in healthcare interpreting. When asked the number of years they had experience
interpreting as a DHI, 10 (45%) reported 1 month3 years, 9 (41%) reported 410 years, 0 reported 1113 years,
and three (14%) reported 14 or more years. Related to the number of DHPs they have worked with, five indicated
one DHP, eight reported working with two to three DHPs, four reported working with four to five DHPs, two
reported working with six to seven DHPs and two indicated working with more than 10 DHPs. The types of
medical professionals for whom these DHIs interpret or have interpreted included 10 medical students (45.5%), 10
psychologists or other mental health professionals (45.5%), nine nurses (40.9%), nine physicians (40.9%), eight
resident physicians (36.4%), three nursing students (13.6%), and four “other” (18.2%). In participants’ roles as
DHIs, 14 (63.6%) indicated full-time status, seven (31.8%) indicated freelance status, and one (4.5%) indicated
being on call. Regarding what organizations employed participants as DHIs, 17 (77.3%) reported university or
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college, 12 (54.5%) hospital, five (22.7%) clinic, three (13.6%) interpreting agency, three (13.6%) self-employed,
and four (18.2%) other(e.g., elementary school, athletic team, drama club, home healthcare). Twenty-one
(95.5%) of participants indicated that their DHP was not their job supervisor and one (4.5%) indicated s/he was.
DHIs reported assuming other administrative duties: scheduling, 12 (54.5%) coordination of services, 10 (45.5%);
freelance contracts, 6 (27.3%); technical support, 5 (22.7%); budget, 2 (9.1%); and Deaf education outreach, 2
(9.1%).
3.2. Task Importance
Participants were shown 200 work tasks (e.g., “determines when fingerspelling of terms is appropriate”; “manages
turn-taking”). They were asked to rate each task twice, once to indicate how important the task was to performing
their work as a DHI and once to indicate how frequently they performed the task. The work tasks were grouped
into 49 categories (see Appendix A). We report the results at the category level rather than the individual task
statement level.
The participants rated the following task categories as relatively more important: fosters positive and
professional reputation, impression management, represents provider; demonstrates openness to unpredictability;
and builds and maintains long-term relationships with DHP, other DHIs, and other key people. The mean ratings
of importance for each task category are shown in descending order in Table 2.
Table 2: Importance of tasks to performing the job as a DHI
n
M
SD
22
4.86
0.47
20
4.85
0.37
22
4.82
0.48
22
4.69
0.51
22
4.68
0.57
21
4.67
0.58
20
4.67
0.48
22
4.66
0.49
22
4.64
0.51
22
4.62
0.48
21
4.57
0.68
21
4.57
0.60
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22
4.57
0.68
20
4.55
0.60
21
4.51
0.64
22
4.51
0.59
21
4.48
0.85
20
4.45
0.74
21
4.44
0.72
21
4.43
0.58
21
4.43
0.76
20
4.43
0.89
21
4.40
0.72
21
4.40
0.64
19
4.39
0.77
21
4.36
0.71
21
4.33
0.80
21
4.33
0.88
21
4.28
0.76
22
4.27
0.94
20
4.24
0.73
21
4.24
0.70
22
4.23
0.84
21
4.21
0.87
20
4.20
0.75
20
4.15
0.99
21
4.14
0.91
20
4.13
0.55
20
4.13
0.76
21
4.12
0.89
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20
4.10
0.84
22
4.06
0.80
21
4.05
0.84
19
4.02
0.77
19
4.00
1.08
21
3.89
0.82
18
3.75
0.81
21
3.54
1.00
14
3.07
1.21
Note: Task importance to job was rated according on a 5-point scale: 1 = not at all important, 2 = somewhat important, 3 =
important, 4 = very important, 5 = extremely important, and NA. One asterisk indicates adaptive performance dimensions; two
asterisks indicates individual team-member performance dimension.
3.3. Task Frequency
The participants rated the following task categories as relatively more frequently performed: dresses
appropriately, decides when and what information to share from the environment, uses healthcare-specific
knowledge (medical knowledge), demonstrates interpersonal adaptability, uses technology to manage work and
communicate with DHP, demonstrates multitasking, and demonstrates openness to unpredictability. The mean
ratings of frequency for each task category are shown in descending order in Table 3.
Table 3: Frequency of tasks to performing the job as a DHI
n
M
SD
Dresses appropriately
21
4.90
0.44
Decides when and what information to share from the environment
22
4.89
0.43
Uses healthcare-specific knowledge (medical knowledge)
21
4.83
0.35
Demonstrates interpersonal adaptability*
21
4.83
0.43
Uses technology to manage work and communicate with DHP
22
4.82
0.50
Demonstrates multitasking
21
4.81
0.40
Demonstrates openness to unpredictability
21
4.81
0.51
Adapts to variety of physical settings and locations, demonstrates physically
22
4.77
0.43
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oriented adaptability*
Language
22
4.77
0.24
Adapts to pace and pace changes of work*
21
4.75
0.57
Builds and maintains long-term relationships with DHP, other DHIs, and
other key people
22
4.74
0.87
Situation awarenesspays attention to the environment**
22
4.71
0.46
Prepares, anticipates needs, and is proactive
22
4.66
0.42
Fulfills team-related task responsibilities**
21
4.64
0.47
Demonstrates effort
21
4.62
0.59
Fosters positive and professional reputation, impression management,
represents provider
22
4.59
1.10
Uses knowledge about others
22
4.55
0.60
Manages the discourse
21
4.54
0.46
Develops shared mental models
21
4.52
0.75
Consideration**
20
4.52
0.59
Deals with uncertain and unpredictable work situations*
21
4.49
0.73
Develops rapport
22
4.48
0.96
Interpreting
22
4.46
0.43
Ethical and professional decision making, understands role
22
4.40
0.39
Trains team members**
20
4.33
0.82
Demonstrates cultural adaptability*
21
4.28
0.50
Team-relevant problem solving**
21
4.26
0.65
Initiates structure**
21
4.24
0.83
Takes health-related precautions
21
4.22
0.65
Monitors performance**
18
4.17
0.79
Handles work stress*
21
4.15
0.55
Team member helping/back-up relief**
20
4.13
0.55
Uses knowledge about healthcare systems, specific hospital, clinic,
22
4.07
0.82
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healthcare setting
Shares task information with team members**
20
4.06
0.85
Monitors/manages/coordinates appointments
22
4.05
1.33
Business practicesinvoices and billing
21
3.95
1.06
Self-care
21
3.94
0.87
Coordinates tasks**
21
3.85
0.96
Collaborates with others
22
3.82
1.02
Adapts to variable schedule*
21
3.79
0.58
Adapts to working with variety of providers in variety of roles*
21
3.76
1.01
Solves problems creatively*
21
3.76
1.09
Handles emergencies or crisis situations*
21
3.50
1.01
Learns work tasks, technologies, and procedures*
21
3.48
0.93
Attends meetings
20
3.38
0.89
Engages in professional development
21
2.94
0.60
Supervises others
14
2.71
1.33
Mentors others
19
2.53
1.02
Teaches/trains others**
21
2.42
0.73
Note: Participants rated the frequency with which they performed each task on a 5-point rating scale: 1 = never, 2 = once a
year or more but not every month, 3 = once a month but not every week, 4 = once a week or more but not every day, 5 = every
day, and NA. One asterisk indicates adaptive performance dimensions; two asterisks indicates individual team-member
performance dimension.
4. Discussion
As the number of deaf individuals practicing or training in healthcare professions increases, so does the need to
understand the scope of practice of the DHIs who work alongside them. Previous exploration of DHIs’
professional practice has drawn on experience and anecdote (Hauser et al., 2008). To the best of our knowledge,
our study is the first to empirically investigate the day-to-day tasks that comprise the work of DHIs and to report
on the perceived relevance (i.e., frequency and importance) of each task they report performing.
Respondents appear fairly new to their roles. Despite a mean of over 13 years interpreting either as generalists
or healthcare specialists, nearly half report 3 years or fewer experience as DHIs. These numbers reflect the surge
of the recent need for DHIs.
The respondent sample was predominantly female, white, and non-Hispanic/Latino, mirroring the lack of
diversity in the interpreting profession with regard to gender and race. Some demographic variables are more
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heterogeneous, with ages ranging from the 20s to 60s, and locations ranging across North America. Most
respondents have certification and postsecondary education. However, given the complexity of the work, it was
surprising to see that 22.7% of respondents had not earned at least a baccalaureate degree. Most reported working
in interpreting teams, rather than alone. Like DHPs, the DHIs who responded to this survey work in a variety of
educational and clinical settings ranging from academic to home health to dental practices.
4.1. Frequency and Importance of Work Tasks
Our respondents indicated that the work of a DHI involves many and varied tasks. DHIs taking the survey
endorsed the need to perform the tasks we asked aboutincluding those related to interpersonal relationships, or
soft skills, and doing so at least weekly. Items ranked high (> = 4.5) in both importance and frequency were
those relevant to professional flexibility, relationship-building, use of schema/prior knowledge to construct a
stronger interpretation (including healthcare-specific knowledge), linguistic mastery, and working with a team.
All of these items reflect characteristics and/or skills associated with effective and successful interpreting,
although they may take on additional importance in maintaining an effective DHPDHI team dynamic, and thus
may contribute to supporting the DHP’s role in providing excellent healthcare. Relationship-building has taken on
greater importance in the healthcare industry, as seen in the trend toward interprofessional communication (Buring
et al., 2009) and seems particularly relevant because DHPs and DHIs work closely together. Linguistic mastery is
always important, but it is of paramount importance in jargon-heavy fields such as medicine and nursing, where
DHPs must communicate efficiently and clearly not only with patients but also with fellow clinicians (Moreland
& Agan, 2012). Just as any physician must be able to switch from lay language (e.g., in describing liver disease to
a patient) to a professional register (e.g., requesting consultation by a liver specialist for managing that same
disease), DHIs must maintain and build on their own healthcare-related linguistic skills in order to be able to
deliver messages effectively in multiple situations and to multiple types of audience. We see working with a team
as perhaps most important for those DHIs who work with other interpreters and need to incorporate those
interpreters into the team smoothly. When a DHI is able to perform this task skillfully, the DHP can focus
primarily on clinical work (or other roles, as the case may be).
Tasks that on average occurred monthly but not weekly were typically administrative in function or implied
some additional responsibility beyond interpretation. The lowest scored tasks (occurring less than monthly) were
related to supervision or responsibility for others. It is likely that the DHP’s specialty and experience directly
influence the task demands on the DHI. The demands of interpreting for an attending physician can differ from
interpreting for a first-year healthcare student. Additionally, the DHP’s field may have some impact as well: a
DHI who works with an internal medicine physician will likely encounter a situation that potentially requires the
DHP to interact more often with certain colleagues in various areas of the hospital, whereas the DHI who
interprets for a surgeon may spend long hours in the operating theater where the verbal interaction to be
interpreted may be differently framed. “Self-care” also had a relatively lower frequency (about once per week or
more but not every day), with examples in the survey such as managing one’s own mental or physical health or
managing vicarious trauma.
The tasks given the least importance were nearly identical to those given the least amount of frequency and
related to supervision or mentorship responsibility. These tasks were rated 3 out of 5 (important), with a mean
range of 3.893.07 and standard deviation variation of 0.811.21. Given the nature of the work of the DHI,
supervision and mentoring seem key to DHI training. It may be that currently DHIs have little room in their
schedules for the extra responsibilities of mentoring and supervision of interning interpreters. Additionally, the
healthcare environment may not often be considered as an internship placement for students in interpreter
education programs, who may not yet have the knowledge and skills for this type of specialized, complex, and
nuanced work.
4.2. Adaptive performance and team member performance
Results suggest that being adaptive and being a team member are both relevant to the work of DHIs. Of the top
one-third most important and most frequently demonstrated task categories, three were categories of adaptive
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performance, including demonstrates interpersonal adaptability; demonstrates physically oriented adaptability;
and adapts to pace and pace changes of work. This suggests that the ability to adapt is a relevant part of DHI
work, especially with regard to people, physical aspects of the work, and pace. Two of the categories in the top
one-third most important and most frequently demonstrated were about being a team member and included
situation awareness - pays attention to the environment, and fulfills team-related task responsibilities. This
suggests that being a team member is relevant to the work of DHIs.
4.3. Limitations and future research
The following limitations of this study need to be considered. We have no clear denominator, because no
systematic measure is available to track DHPs, much less DHIs. Although we suspect the number of DHIs is
relatively small, we cannot estimate how well the number of respondents represents the total population of DHIs.
Moreover, the data reflect the respondents’ perceptions. A future study could gather additional data to
corroborate, for example, the actual frequency with which given tasks are completed. However, the consistency of
the results among the respondents is a positive indicator and provides a strong foundation for future research.
Given our survey’s focus, we are unable to explore the DHP perspective on this work task analysis. The deaf
clinician’s perspective on the DHPDHI relationship is vital to understanding the work of the DHI. A future study
might investigate the DHP’s perspective, including ways that the DHP and DHI build an effective team, not only
with each other but also with other clinicians, to further optimize healthcare delivery.
The label designated healthcare interpreter (DHI) is still relatively new in the field of signed language
interpretation, having only come into the professional vernacular in 2008. The definition or conception of what
makes an interpreter a DHI seems to be in flux, as the field has embraced, but still seems to struggle to fully
understand, the DHI’s role. The term originally carried the implication of long-term commitment and synergy,
that the interpreter had committed his or her interpreting practice and career to a single deaf professional and that
a relationship had been established over a number of years of working side by side. A DHI was understood to be
part of a long-standing relationship, not a job title whose occupant might be, to a certain extent, interchangeable.
In considering the development of a DHI curriculum, it may be useful to not only revisit what was and is meant by
the term designated healthcare interpreter, but to discuss what such a role would include.
In the future, it may be instructive to conduct a comprehensive comparison of the job task analysis of
healthcare interpreters (Olson & Swabey, in press) with the current analysis of the work of DHIs. Although the
scope of this article only allows a cursory comparison, on the surface the differences are striking. For DHIs, the
relatively most important task categories include: fosters positive and professional reputation, impression
management; demonstrates openness to unpredictability; and builds and maintains long-term relationships with
DHP, other DHIs and other key people. The relatively most important task categories for non-designated
healthcare interpreters include language and interpreting, situation assessment, and ethical and professional
decision making.
Both DHIs and non-designated healthcare interpreters rated “dresses appropriately” as the most frequent task.
Following that, the relatively most frequent tasks for DHIs included decide when and what information to share
from the environment; use healthcare-specific knowledge; and demonstrate interpersonal adaptability. For non-
designated healthcare interpreters, the relatively most frequent tasks included adapt to a variety of physical
settings and locations; adapt to working with a variety of providers in a variety of roles; and deal with uncertain
and unpredictable work situations. Given this brief overview, it appears that some of the crucial difference in the
importance and frequency of job tasks suggest the need for specific education and training for DHIs.
Although interpreter education is more comprehensive than it was in the early years of the profession, no
standard curriculum yet exists for DHIs. This study is a first step in considering the types of work tasks that a
curriculum for DHIs might address. Given the growing need for this speciality, it is a type of work that should be
introduced to students as a career possibility during their undergraduate education, with specialized training,
including observation and supervision, occurring after graduation.
Based on this first systematic analysis of the work of DHIs, we propose that the fields of interpreting and
interpreter education have much to gain from a better understanding of this type of work. Our results provide a
first step toward the directed teaching of interpreters who specialize, either incidentally or intentionally, as DHIs
for deaf clinicians. The complexities of role management that surface in the DHPDHI work may serve as
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examples of interpreting work at its besta partnership that allows the deaf professional a high degree of access
to and control of communication. A shared, evidence-based understanding of the work of DHIs may inform the
training and professional practice not only of designated healthcare interpreters, but of community interpreters as
well.
Acknowledgments
We greatly appreciate the DHIs who participated in this survey. We also want to acknowledge the assistance of
graduate student Jeni Rodrigues. Finally, special thanks to Rachel Herring for reviewing the manuscript.
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Appendix A: Task Categories Measured for Designated Healthcare Interpreters
Adapts to pace and pace changes of work*
Adapts to variable schedule*
Adapts to variety of physical settings and locations, demonstrates physically oriented adaptability*
Adapts to working with variety of providers in variety of roles*
Attends meetings
Builds and maintains long-term relationships with DHP, other DHIs and other key people
Business practices - invoices and billing
Collaborates with others
Consideration**
Coordinates tasks**
Deals with uncertain and unpredictable work situations*
Decides when and what information to share from the environment
Demonstrates cultural adaptability*
Demonstrates effort
Demonstrates interpersonal adaptability*
Demonstrates multi-tasking
Demonstrates openness to unpredictability
Develops rapport
Develops shared mental models
Dresses appropriately
Engages in professional development
Ethical and professional decision making, understands role
Fosters positive and professional reputation, impression management, represents provider
Fulfills team-related task responsibilities**
Handles emergencies or crisis situations*
Handles work stress*
Initiates structure**
Interpreting
Language
Learn work tasks, technologies and procedures*
Manages the discourse
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Mentors others
Monitors performance**
Monitors/manages/coordinates appointments
Prepares, anticipates needs, and is proactive
Self-care
Shares task information with team members**
Situation awareness-pays attention to the environment**
Solves problems creatively*
Supervises others
Takes health-related precautions
Teaches/trains others**
Team member helping/back-up relief**
Team-relevant problem solving**
Trains team members**
Uses healthcare-specific knowledge (medical knowledge)
Uses knowledge about healthcare systems, specific hospital, clinic, or healthcare educational setting)
Uses knowledge about others
Uses technology to manage work and communicate with DHP
One asterisk indicates adaptive performance dimensions; two asterisks indicates individual team-member performance
dimension.
... They not only interpret formal and informal contexts but also become knowledgeable about the deaf professional's work. 5,6 Most importantly, designated interpreters more accurately predict appropriate language and interaction structures depending on who is in the room (e.g., colleague versus supervisor) because they are familiar with individuals and their relationships, which allows interactions to happen more in "real-time" than typical interpreting processes. Designated interpreters also can work more efficiently as they do not have to constantly manage the language and culture differences for both the deaf professionals and their hearing colleagues. ...
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