Grad connects patients and healthcare providers

When she began her career as a medical interpreter, Hilda Lo never thought that she’d be providing emotional support while breaking down language barriers.

“As an interpreter, you’re not just working with patients, you’re dealing with their families too,” she explains.  

Hilda is a medical interpreter for Cantonese since it’s her first language, having grown up in Hong Kong and moving to Canada when she was a teenager. After completing her bachelor’s in communication at SFU, she began working as a medical office assistant and saw the need for medical interpreters firsthand. 

She wondered whether her language skills could help her pivot to a new career and came across SFU’s Medical Translation and Interpretation Certificate online. Despite her Mandarin Chinese not being as strong as her Cantonese, Hilda bravely enrolled in the program – mastering her proficiency in Mandarin while gaining practical skills for the interpretation and translation field. 

“When you’re doing interpretation work, it’s especially important for you to not make mistakes, so having that in-class environment to make those mistakes and learn from them was crucial,” she says. 

Hilda now provides interpretation services in her mother tongue through the Provincial Health Services Authority’s Provincial Language Service program. When asked about the challenges of her profession, she recalled an emotional meeting with a cancer patient and her family who had received distressing news. While translating what the healthcare provider told the patient, Hilda also provided a listening ear as the patient processed everything she was hearing. 

“I am there to interpret what people are saying to each other, but at the same time, I’m also a human being,” she says. “You need to be prepared to convey difficult information on the job and be able to take care of your own mental health.” 

It was a difficult situation for Hilda, but a valuable lesson, as she continues to build her experience in a challenging yet ultimately rewarding field.

“The certificate is just a starting point of a continuous learning experience,” she says. “My advice for people considering a career in this field is to seize every opportunity to practice your skills and grow.” 

By Bernice Puzon