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In this extract from “Scrubs”, we get to witness an example of the downsides to getting an inexperienced, biased family member to interpret a conversation. In the first scene, the doctor realizes that the German-speaking patient’s brother is visiting and much more familiar with English than the patient. The doctor thusly asks the patient’s brother to interpret his diagnosis to the patient.

When the patient reacts positively to the grave prognosis, the doctor starts doubting the conversation went as it should. A problem now emerges: the doctor cannot ask the makeshift interpreter if his brother has understood the gravity of his situation because he would then be in the same situation – being forced to trust the interpreter, only this time he may erode the interpreter or the patient’s trust by implying that a part of the conversation had been distorted.

The doctor is now in a predicament, being stuck between taking the conversation as accurate and possibly letting a huge misunderstanding go by the wayside or have another meeting with the patient and a professional interpreter, which is likely to provide accurate results but also undermine the doctor, the hospital and potentially the patient and the brother – especially if the original conversation was accurate.

The second scene confirms the doctor’s doubts by an unlikely combination of events: his coworker speaks perfect German and the doctor remembers and pronounces perfectly the interpretation of the last sentence of his conversation with the patient.

The bottom line is that interpretation shouldn’t be an afterthought, especially in life-or-death situations. The doctor used the patient’s brother as an interpreter out of nothing else than convenience. If he had even tried to find an interpreter, he probably would have found out that his colleague speaks German. Using a coworker isn’t ideal (unless they are professionally trained, like the American Sign Language interpreter in the Law and Order extract) but it would have gotten rid of the bias that the patient’s brother had. In addition, it is easier to question an impartial interpreter than a patient’s family member since the questions are less likely to come across as personal attacks or critiques.

If the doctor wanted to be confident about the outcome of the conversation, he should have used a professionally trained interpreter. It might have been less convenient than the hospital using one of the patient’s relatives as a volunteer but it would have been accurate and thorough and the doctor wouldn’t have to correct a major miscommunication.

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