Nadia didn’t get an interpreter during a medical appointment and was left feeling confused and uninformed about her health. It’s a common issue, but how did this happen to Nadia?

Nadia and her family arrived in Australia two years ago on humanitarian visa. I’ve personally known Nadia for 6 months.

Nadia’s family situation is tough. She’s the only breadwinner, a full-time childcare worker. She has a husband with a terminal illness, a son who is still job hunting and a teenage daughter struggling with her sudden migration. Despite all this, Nadia and her family couldn’t get government assistance during COVID because of their visa status.

Because of all this, feeling unwell is a MAJOR inconvenience for Nadia. Feeling unwell means being away from paid work and family responsibilities. But Nadia did feel unwell. 

She took valuable time off, booked an appointment and saw a professional. But unfortunately she left feeling more confused than anything else.

At this point Nadia called me.  “Salam Eman! How are you?  Can you help me with a medical  issue I’m experiencing ? I saw a doctor today but I didn’t understand what she was saying!”

Me: ‘I’m happy to help. But I’m not a doctor, so there’s a limit to the advice I can give you. Did the doctor offer you an interpreter?” 

Nadia‘Yes, but I told her I speak some English and that my daughter could interpret anything I didn’t understand’.

Me: ‘Nadia,  your daughter probably speaks conversational English well. And she can support you at your appointments, but it’s not fair or wise to ask her to interpret complex medical information

I encouraged Nadia to request an interpreter at her follow up appointment, but I still don’t know if she did.

Let’s ask a couple of questions to unpack this situation a little:

Should Nadia be assessing her own language needs for a medical appointment? 

Should she be using a family member to interpret complex medical information?


I think we all know the answer to these questions is NO!

This means that a probably well meaning service provider didn’t meet their duty of care.

“But they asked her, and she declined!”

This is true, but:

  • Nadia is not a professional and is not in a position to judge her own nor her daughter’s ability to understand and interpret complex medical information
  • Her daughter shouldn’t be interpreting anyway, unless it’s simple information like appointment dates and times.

The only person in this situation with the skill and obligation to make this important decision is the service provider. 

Too often service providers take a risk with someone’s health just because they speak another language. It isn’t an excuse to say the person refused the interpreter. It’s not the client’s responsibility to decide if they need an interpreter. It’s the responsibility of the healthcare professional.

It might have felt like a time saver for the doctor in this story to let Nadia’s daughter interpret. But saving time is far less important than Nadia’s wellbeing.