Should medical students act as interpreters?

Stuart Carney
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (4): . || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50282
Published online: 19 August 2019

Tapping their diverse skills can benefit not only students, but also patients and health care teams

Casting my mind back to medical school, I recall the anxiety of changing clinical team with each new rotation and the strong desire to be seen to be doing the right thing. Twenty‐five years on, medical students regularly share accounts of the same struggles when I meet with them. I am also struck during these meetings by the diverse experiences that students bring to medical school. It is against a similar backdrop that Ryan and colleagues examined the frequency and experiences of medical students acting as interpreters in health care settings, as reported in this issue of the Journal.1 Their study brings into the open a question rarely discussed in Australia: that of medical students acting as interpreters during clinical placement.

  • University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Ryan AT, Fisher C, Chiavaroli N. Medical students as interpreters in health care situations: “… it's a grey area”. Med J Aust 2019; 211: 170–174.
  • 2. Karliner LS, Jacobs EA, Chen AH, Mutha S. Do professional interpreters improve clinical care for patients with limited English proficiency? A systematic review of the literature. Health Serv Res 2007; 42: 727–754.
  • 3. Queensland Health Interpreter Service. Working with interpreters: guidelines. Brisbane: Queensland Health, 2007. (viewed May 2019).
  • 4. Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators. AUSIT code of ethics and code of conduct. Updated Nov 2012. (viewed May 2019).
  • 5. Diaz JE, Ekasumara N, Menon NR, et al. Interpreter training for medical students: pilot implementation and assessment in a student‐run clinic. BMC Med Educ 2016; 16: 256.
  • 6. Vargas Pelaez AF, Ramirez SI, Valdes Sanchez C, et al. Implementing a medical student interpreter training program as a strategy to developing humanism. BMC Med Educ 2018; 18: 141.
  • 7. Aitken G. Medical students as certified interpreters. AMA J Ethics 2019; 21: E232–E238.


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