Medical translation: characteristics, requirements of medical translators and project management

Medicine is a common thread everywhere in the world, because in the end, health – especially these days – is at the core of our lives. Medical translation is a specialised scientific-technical branch that allows medicine to truly bring people together, given that it guarantees communication and the exchange of information.

Medical translation must respond to all communication needs related to medicine and must cover all its sectors and disciplines: general medicine, paediatrics, cardiology, endocrinology, respiratory medicine, gynaecology and the list goes on.

One thing that all the disciplines have in common is a highly specialised language, in addition to a clear, precise and well-defined structure in texts. With this as the starting point, a translator faces a number of challenges in a medical translation.

Challenges and requirements of a medical translator

Diversity in the type of text: Ads (orthopaedic devices, prostheses, drugs, etc.), articles for specialised or general medical journals, informative brochures, medical certificates (health certificates, death certificates, etc.), clinical trial protocols, medical reports, specialised or general information textbooks, informed consent forms, prescriptions, leaflets, patents, explanatory videos, etc. A medical translator is capable of adapting their writing to the characteristics of each type of text.

Scientific language: A medical translator translates clearly, accurately and truthfully. Moreover, they understand the particular structures of each kind of scientific text (e.g. articles that follow the classic structure: abstract, introduction, methods, results and discussion). They must also maintain an impersonal and objective style.

Specialised terminology: A good medical translator is used to avoiding pitfalls such as false friends (e.g. mistakenly translating ‘fatal’ as ‘fatal’ instead of ‘mortal’ when translating from English into Spanish), as well as neologisms and ambiguity or inaccuracy. They also have access to good, specialised linguistic resources to ensure that the right terminology is used.

Variety of communicative situations: Professional translators know that they must first determine the purpose and recipient of a text so that the translation can be adapted to the audience. For example, in English certain general publications often mix technical and popular terminology (such as the formal and common names of diseases: varicella vs chickenpox), while in Spanish the language tends to remain technical. A medical translator adapts each language to how it is used.

Cultural adaptation: Even though it may not seem so, culture is also an important factor in medicine. For example, in Spanish the commercial names of drugs are commonly used in scientific texts, while the chemical compound is typically used in English.

Formal conventions: Medical texts are often subject to supervision by the competent authorities. It is vitally important to know how to maintain any requirements related to structure, organisation, required units of measure, etc.

Syntax of both languages: Longer or shorter sentences, use of the impersonal, use of articles, etc. These are all characteristics of each language that a medical translator must also keep in mind. Proper professional training usually ensures the appropriate knowledge.

The aforementioned are only some of the most important points that a good medical translator must consider. In any event, to produce a quality medical translation, a translator must meet the following requirements:

  • They should have medical training or specific knowledge on the subject.
  • They must have reliable linguistic resources available (specialised and/or technical dictionaries, access to medical translator forums, reference works, parallel texts, etc.).
  • They should specialise in the discipline or type of text in question.
  • They must have time to prepare the source text: documentation and research.
  • They should have previous experience and be familiar with the field.

Medical translation project management

At Siens Translation, we guarantee excellent management of the medical translation projects we receive:

  1. First, we analyse the source text (purpose, target audience, field, type of text, communicative situation).
  2. Subsequently, we choose the professional medical translator who is the most appropriate for each project based on the aforementioned points and their experience and specialisation.
  3. We prepare the files to facilitate the translator’s job.
  4. Finally, we proofread and review the translated text to ensure that it meets the technical requirements according to the standards and that it is coherent and consistent.

By following these steps, we assure quality work in an area as sensitive and important as medicine, regardless of the sector: pharmaceutical, editorial, public health and healthcare, research or institutional.

In the end, translating is like cooking: with a good chef, quality ingredients, good preparation and attention to details, the dish always comes out well!

Sources: Marsh, Malcom (-). «Algunas consideraciones sobre la traducción médica» [online publication]. Centro Virtual Cervantes. <