Eugenia Dal Fovo

Medical Interpreter

Q: Who are you, what do you do and how long have you done it?

I am Eugenia Dal Fovo, conference and healthcare interpreter (language combination: IT, EN, DE). I have an MA degree in conference interpreting and a Ph.D. in Interpreting and Translation Studies. I live in Trieste (Italy) and have been working here as freelance interpreter for almost 9 years. In 2012 I started working as healthcare interpreter for a local association of cultural mediators (Associazione INTERETHNOS Onlus ( and two years ago I started teaching consecutive and dialogue interpreting as adjunct professor at the Universities of Trieste and Macerata (Italy), both at BA and MA level. When I am not working or lecturing I take care of my research: I am a published author within the field of Interpreting studies, specialising in TV interpreting and healthcare interpreting.

Q: As a medical interpreter, what exactly do you do?

The profession of “medical interpreter” in Italy is not recognised - let alone regulated - at national level. Norms and codes of conduct have been developed at regional level, mostly with the aim of addressing issues that are strictly relevant to the local environment. The job is rarely assigned to individuals with a degree in interpreting: medical interpreters are rather known as “cultural mediators”, a very broad label, usually indicating individuals with a migration history who have elected Italy as their country of residence. In the years I have been working as medical interpreter, I have found myself dealing with very diverse situations: the job is on call, and assignments may be urgent (e.g. a foreign patient at the E.R.) or planned in advance (e.g. a check-up ultrasound scheduled two months before the due date of a pregnancy); medical interpreters working for the Association are available to public healthcare institutions in the province of Trieste exclusively and assist any sort of foreign-speaking person (e.g. tourist, legal or illegal migrant, non-Italian-speaking citizens...).

Q: If you lecture and no-longer interpret, how did that come about?

I did not stop working as a freelance interpreter when I started lecturing, for two main reasons: one is (sadly) money-related, as my salary as University lecturer only covers a small percentage of my expenses; the second reason is based on my firm conviction that no one can teach a profession without working in the field - in other words, I feel it would be hypocritical of me to teach interpreting without being an interpreter in my everyday life.

Q: How did you become interested in medical interpreting?

It all started by chance: a good friend and former University colleague of mine was already working as medical interpreter for the Association I mentioned. One day her German-speaking colleague was not in Trieste and the hospital needed a German-speaking interpreter urgently. So my friend called me, I said yes, and that is how I started.

Q: What is your educational background?

I have a BA degree in Translation and Interpreting, an MA degree in Conference Interpreting and a Ph.D. in Interpreting and Translation Studies.

Q: What languages do you speak?

I am a native Italian speaker, my working languages are English and German.

Q: What qualifications are needed to become a medicalinterpreter?

In Italy? Absolutely none. My colleague and I are the only medical interpreters in the association with an MA degree in interpreting.

Q: What skills are needed to do medical interpreting (over and above language skills)

Let me start by stressing once again the fact that there is currently no official legislation regulating the profession in Italy, and it is therefore difficult to name a set of skills and competencies without being subjective, i.e. referring to one’s own personal experience. As far as I am concerned, possibly the most important pre-requisite for a medical interpreter (and for any interpreter, for that matter) is awareness of one’s responsibility of communication facilitator, namely being the link through which understanding between interlocutors is -ideally- reached. Such awareness should therefore guide medical interpreters’ every action and choice. Secondly, a good medical interpreter is aware of the identities, roles, goals and tasks associated with the institution s/he is working for, i.e. the healthcare institutions (e.g. hospital, clinic, retirement home, family-counselling unit, etc.). Let me give you an example of goal(s) by breaking down the communication process: doctors and patients in interaction share a primary goal, namely that of curing the patient; in order to do so, the doctor will pursue the sub-goal of obtaining enough relevant pieces of information to formulate a diagnosis and the relevant therapy, while the patient will pursue the sub-goal of providing said pieces of information - and, subsequently, understanding the doctor’s indications correctly - in order to be cured. So the translational choices made by the interpreter should, at this level, adhere to this subset of goals. When further circumscribing the field, one of the principles of healthcare ethics is that doctors may only put forward a suitable course of action to cure a patient; the latter, however, has always the right to choose whether to accept such course of action or not. Linguistically speaking, healthcare interpreters should always bear this in mind when choosing the wording of their translational turns.

Q: What language pairs are particularly useful in your region?

As you may imagine, usefulness of languages heavily depends on social, historic, geographical, political and ethnographical factors. The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region lies right on the border with Slovenia, and, more generally, the Balkans. Slavic languages, therefore, have always been a priority. To the North, the region borders with Austria, while its southern shore faces the Adriatic Sea, making the area a very popular destination for German-speaking tourists. Like in many other Italian cities, in Trieste too lives a large community of Chinese migrants. Furthermore, the current geo-political situation has determined a massive flow of migrants coming from Northern Africa and Nigeria, on one hand, and the Middle East, mainly Syria, on the other. Finally, the city of Trieste hosts the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), which attracts dozens of international scholars (and their families) from all over the world, and whose internal working language is English.

Q: What are some of the challenges associated with medical interpreting?

Do not even get me started... ;) I should say that challenges associated with this profession are very diverse in nature, ranging from purely technical and language-related difficulties, to ethical, emotional, and moral issues. Technical difficulties refer to logistics, for instance: healthcare institutions are scattered throughout Trieste, so one might find oneself assisting a patient in the main hospital and then having to rush to the opposite side of town to assist another at the family-counselling unit. Travelling expenses are not covered either by the Association or by the local healthcare agency, so most of us rely on public transport to move around, as it is the cheapest way of reaching one’s destination within the urban area - but also the slowest, more often than not, and this may result in delays in the service, especially in the case of urgent assignments. Language-related challenges have not much to do with medical terminology, but a lot to do with accents, dialects, and idioms (e.g. Nigerian patients speaking pidgin English, illiterate patients, ...). Ethical, emotional and moral issues largely concern one’s self-imposed boundaries: when you find yourself assisting a Nigerian woman in need of a simple gynaecological visit, and while waiting for the doctor you find out that she is a single mother, her asylum application has been rejected, and, with nowhere to go, she’s planning to leave Trieste that very night with her baby daughter with nothing but her purse and pram, to board the first train to Naples, where, as some guy at the shelter told her, she can work as a prostitute with no need of documents, where do you draw the line?

Q: What are the hours?

According to the convention regulating the cooperation between the local healthcare service and the Association, interpreters are available Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Healthcare operators, however, may call the Association 24/7 and, in case of emergencies, remote interpreting is provided. Despite such official arrangements, it is not infrequent that interpreters work late at night or during the weekend, especially in the E.R. (e.g. when a patient is admitted at 7 p.m. and is only treated at 10 p.m., or has to wait for test results, etc.).

Q: What about the money?

Interpreters are paid by the hour and are paid very little. To give you an idea, let me tell you that, in order to reach the minimum wage of € 1,000 per month, each interpreter should work at least 50 hours every month, which is hardly the case, given the fact that there are at least two interpreters for every language combination, for a total of 62 individuals working in the city of Trieste exclusively - with a number of foreign citizens that amounts to the 9.34% of the total inhabitants (ca. 200,000).

Q: Where could interested people go for more information?

People interested in knowing more about healthcare interpreting in general may find a lot of information on the official websites of the AUSIT (National association for the translating and interpreting profession). In order to know more about the situation I have been depicting so far, anyone is very welcome to contact me personally via email (please, contact the EALTHY Association to receive my contact information).

David Tracey

Medical Translator

Q: Who are you, what do you do and how long have you done it?

My name is David Tracey. I was born in England, but grew up in Sydney (Australia), where I studied biological sciences and then completed a doctorate in neuroscience near San Francisco. After this I carried out postdoctoral research in Munich and Paris and then returned to Australia, where I worked for many years as a medical academic involved in teaching, research and administration. After retiring as an emeritus professor, I returned to Europe with my wife Silke; I started working as a medical translator and editor of English texts in London in 2008. We now live with our two children in Bern, Switzerland. Silke is a German-trained doctor who worked for some years in London. When not counselling clients in her practice or teaching medicine and medical English to students, she supports my work with her bilingual background and also proofreads many of my translations.

Q: As a medical translator, what exactly do you do?

I translate all kinds of medical texts from German to English and also edit and proofread medical and technical texts in English. The work involves not only translation as such, but also good word processing and formatting skills. I should make it clear that I’m a translator, not an interpreter – in other words I work with written texts, not speech.

Q: How did you become a medical translator?

I became a medical translator by chance. We were living with our young children in London, where I was teaching part-time while Silke undertook a postgraduate degree at London Business School. I saw an advertisement from a small translation agency looking for translators with university qualifications. I started to work freelance with them, but also registered with an online platform for translators and agencies in the hope of getting more work. I didn’t have much success at first, and so I decided to sit for the examination offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) in the UK for a Diploma in Translation. I took an online course to prepare for the exam and sat in on lectures in the German department at University College London, where I was teaching anatomy and physiology. The diploma proved to be useful, and I gradually got more work from translation agencies. However, I have since acquired some direct clients and have enough work to keep me busy.

Q: What is your professional background?

I worked as an academic in the medical faculties of various universities in Australia, the US, Germany and the UK, and this medical background is obviously useful for medical translation. But language skills are more important, and I owe a debt to my high school teacher in Sydney who contributed to my skills in writing English, as well as to my colleagues while I was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Munich; they agreed to speak German with me while their English was still much better than my German. I later gained a lot of experience in writing, editing, proofreading and publishing technical texts in English with grant applications, papers for scientific journals, book chapters and so on.

Q: What qualifications, if any, are needed to become a medical translator?

No formal qualification is required to become a medical translator. But you must be able to demonstrate good skills in at least two languages – that goes without saying. A university degree in languages and membership of a respectable association of translators such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) in the UK are also useful.

Q: What skills are needed to be a medical translator (over and above language skills)

Good computer skills are increasingly important. Most translators now use computer-assisted translation tools that incorporate machine translation. You still need excellent language skills, but the tools allow you to work more quickly and consistently. You also need to have an eye for detail (even detail that may appear trivial) and you must be a bit of a perfectionist. And you may have to put up with being somewhat isolated. If you work as a freelance translator, you will often be working by yourself, perhaps at home, without cheerful colleagues to distract you.

Q: What language pairs are particularly useful in your region?

There are four official languages in Switzerland, the most important being German and French. So German/French and vice versa are important for interpreters. But as a translator, your location is less important – you can translate in your language pair anywhere, as long as you have a good Internet connection. However, it sometimes helps to live in the same region as your clients.

Q: What are some of the challenges associated with medical translation?

An obvious challenge is the specialised terminology. A related challenge is the overload of specialised abbreviations – particularly in medical reports, which doctors dictate in a hurry to their secretaries, adding inaccuracy to obscurity. Confidentiality is an issue in the medical field as well as in other areas. I often read comments suggesting that errors in medical translation can have lethal consequences. But I think one needs to strive for accuracy in any area of technical translation, and most of the medical translations I do deal more with administrative matters than with existential issues.

Q: What are the hours?

I am a full-time freelance translator. As such I have the advantage (and disadvantage!) that to a considerable extent I can translate whenever (and wherever) I like. But it sometimes helps to be in a time zone near that of your clients.

Q: What about the money?

The money is a major issue for freelancers, not so much if you are employed. But as a freelancer, you are facing global competition from freelancers all over the world. As a result, rates can range from less than 5 eurocents to more than 40 eurocents per word, depending on your location, your language pair and who you are working for. My advice to would-be translators is not to give up your day job until you’re established.

Q: Where could interested people go for more information?

If you are interested in working as a translator, you could contact one of the universities that teaches translation, e.g. City University, London, or a translators’ association in your country (e.g. the ITI or the CIOL in the UK). Or you can send me an email if you wish.

Q: Any advice for people wanting to break into the field?

Make sure you have the relevant qualifications and skills, and don’t give up your day job until you’re established!

Q: Anything else you think is useful to know?

There are a number of portals on the Internet that connect translators and agencies, the biggest and best of which is You can offer your services on these portals, many of which have useful features such as lists of average rates for translators and the opportunity to ask colleagues for advice on how to translate difficult terms.


Susan Bosher

ESP Researcher & author

Q: Who are you, what do you do and how long have you done it?

My name is Susan Bosher and I am a Professor in the English Department at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.  I have been working at St. Catherine since 1997 and in the area of English for Nursing since 1999. 

Q: As an ESP researcher, what exactly do you do?

As a Professor of English and Director of ESL, I primarily teach a variety of courses, including writing and immigrant literature courses for non-native speakers of English; language studies courses, including a TESL course; and courses on immigration and the immigrant experience.  My work as an ESP researcher in the area of English for Nursing developed from the needs of immigrant students at my university and was initially funded by a grant from the federal government.  I have also worked in the area of linguistic modification, reducing the linguistic complexity of multiple-choice test items for a major test developer to increase their readability for non-native speakers of English.  In addition, I have consulted with nursing departments on topics related to ESL students in nursing, most notably, reducing linguistic bias on multiple-choice tests and responding effectively to ESL student writing.  Most recently I have been working on materials development for an online nursing education program in East Africa. 

Q: How did you become an ESP researcher?

From 1999-2002, I worked on a 3-year grant at my university from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to recruit and retain multicultural and other underrepresented groups in nursing.  In connection with that grant, I conducted a needs analysis of immigrant and international students in the baccalaureate-degree nursing program; developed materials and taught courses on English for Cross-Cultural Nursing; and conducted several research studies on the effects of linguistic modification on ESL students’ comprehension of and performance on multiple-choice nursing course exams. 

I have also conducted needs analyses, developed materials, and taught courses in English for Library Workers and English for Eco-tourism.      

Q: What is your background? Do you have a medical background?

My background is in applied linguistics.  I have an M.A. in TESOL from Teachers College, Columbia University and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Minnesota, with emphasis on second languages and cultures education, linguistics, and composition and communication.  I do not have a medical background per se, but for the three years I worked on the DHHS grant, I attended nursing lectures, labs, and clinicals to learn all I could about nursing and the language-related skills and tasks that nursing students must be able to perform successfully in the nursing program and in the clinical setting.  In addition, I have collaborated with nurse educators on a number of projects, including an anthology of essays on creating a more culturally inclusive environment in nursing education and two textbooks for ESL nursing students, one focusing on academic skills and the other on communication skills in the clinical setting. 

Q: What qualifications, if any, are needed to become a language researcher?

In my opinion, it is necessary to have graduate-level education in applied linguistics, including second-language acquisition, best practices in language teaching, discourse analysis, and materials development.     

Q: What skills are needed to be a good researcher?

A researcher needs to ask the right questions to discern the key issues related to a topic.  The researcher also needs to know how to access resources and learn as much as possible about the topic; how to design a study or conduct a needs analysis, the results of which can be used to determine the best course of action; how to design a program or curriculum and develop materials and other resources to meet the needs of students and other stakeholders; and how to evaluate the success of the project from multiple perspectives.  The researcher must also be a good communicator, not only to access resources about the topic, but also to disseminate the findings and ensure the sustainability of the project after the researcher’s work is done.     

Q: What are some of high points of your career to date?

I love the consulting work I do, as I am interacting with people outside my area of expertise, who can benefit the most from presentations about acquiring academic literacy in a second language and the linguistic and cultural challenges that immigrant students face in higher education.  At the same time, nurse educators are a challenging audience because they have to worry about patient safety and professional standards.  There is often a real give-and-take at these presentations as they bring a healthy scepticism to the table, but at the same time, they recognize the importance of creating a more culturally and linguistically diverse nursing profession and really want to bring out structural changes even if they are not sure how.

Another highlight of my career has been the books that I have worked on.  Each one has been a tremendous amount of work that has taken several years to complete, but the feeling of accomplishment in the end has been worth it.  One of the books, an anthology on creating a more culturally inclusive environment in nursing education, which I co-edited with a nursing colleague, won an award for faculty excellence at my university, which was also very rewarding. 

Q: What are some of the challenges associated with your job?

As my work is primarily as a Professor at my university, my challenge has been finding the time to do the project-based ESP work that I so enjoy.  When I have worked on federal grants (from 1999-2002 for the work in English for Nursing and 2004-2009 for English for Library Workers), I have received course releases to do the research and materials/course development.  But, usually these projects have been in addition to my full-time job.

Q: What are the hours?

The hours are in addition to my regular responsibilities of teaching and service to the University except when working on federal grants, as mentioned above.  However, I have been able to count the ESP research that I have done toward the expectations for research and publication at my university. 

Q: What about the money?

There is no additional compensation in connection with federal grants; indeed, academics are obligated to take course release(s) when they are working on a federally funded project so as not to exceed their regular work load.  However, because my research benefits the students and faculty at my university, I have also received internal grants in more recent years to conduct research studies, develop materials, and work on book projects.  These grants mostly pay for expenses incurred in connection with the project but they can also include a small stipend for faculty.   In addition, I am able to arrange consulting fees individually with universities and other organizations.  

Q: Where could interested people go for more information?

Professional organizations, such as TESOL and IATEFL that have an ESP Special Interest section, are an excellent source of information.   Conferences that focus on ESP or on a particular area of ESP, such as English for Medical Purposes, are another highly effective way to learn more about the field and to meet people who have done work in ESP.  Several excellent books have been published in recent years that explain how to conduct a needs analysis and develop materials in ESP, and the journal English for Specific Purposes provides examples of research studies and curriculum development projects that have made substantial contributions to the field.  Finally, there is a Medical ESP list-serv that disseminates information about conferences and publications of interest; it is also possible to ask for information or advice about a particular topic by posting it on the list-serv.       

Q: Any advice for people wanting to get into language research?

What are the areas of need for immigrant and international students in your locale or place of employment?  What are local or national sources of funding for educational initiatives that could help to meet those needs?  If you are enrolled in a graduate program in TESOL or in a related field, choose topics for research projects that will give you practice in assessing and meeting the needs of students in a specific area of ESP.  Such projects will not only give you invaluable experience in the field, but it could also put you in touch with experts in the field.  Since ESP practitioners often have to collaborate with experts in the field, such contacts could prove useful for future projects.        

Q: Anything else you think is useful to know?

Accept every project that comes your way, within reason, as it will improve your skill set in some way, increase your contacts with experts in the field, and add to your portfolio that could lead to other projects in the future.