The Roles of medical interpreters in intensive care unit communication: A qualitative study

Nataly R.Espinoza Suarez, Meritxell Urtecho, Samira Jubran, Mei Ean Yeow, Michael E. Wilson, Kasey R. Boehmer, Amelia K. Barwise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To understand healthcare team perceptions of the role of professional interpreters and interpretation modalities during end of life and critical illness discussions with patients and families who have limited English proficiency in the intensive care unit (ICU). Methods: We did a secondary analysis of data from a qualitative study with semi-structured interviews of 16 physicians, 12 nurses, and 12 professional interpreters from 3 ICUs at Mayo Clinic, Rochester. Results: We identified 3 main role descriptions for professional interpreters: 1) Verbatim interpretation; interpreters use literal interpretation; 2) Health Literacy Guardian; interpreters integrate advocacy into their role; 3) Cultural Brokers; interpreters transmit information incorporating cultural nuances. Clinicians expressed advantages and disadvantages of different interpretation modalities on the professional interpreter's role in the ICU. Conclusion: Our study illuminates different professional interpreters’ roles. Furthermore, we describe the perceived relationship between interpretation modalities and the interpreter's roles and influence on communication dynamics in the ICU for patients with LEP. Practice implications: Patients benefit from having an interpreter, who can function as a cultural broker or literacy guardian during communication in the ICU setting where care is especially complex, good communication is vital, and decision making is challenging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1100-1108
Number of pages9
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Critical care
  • Critical illness
  • Decision making
  • End-of-life
  • Interpreter
  • Interpreter modality
  • Interpreter mode
  • Limited English proficiency
  • Patient care
  • Patient care team

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'The Roles of medical interpreters in intensive care unit communication: A qualitative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this