Translators write with a specific target audience in mind. So do doctors. Whether writing prescriptions or making notes in a patient’s chart, doctors are writing to, or for, other medical professionals.While it may look like chicken scratch on paper to us, it’s plain as day to a reader who knows what to look for.
Deciphering a doctor’s handwriting in your second language can be even more challenging. We need resources and strategies to confidently decipher and translate the chicken scratch that English-speaking doctors rely upon to create safe treatment plans for their patients.
Know the penmanship conventions for your source language.
The first step toward deciphering handwriting in your source language is to understand how they form their letters. Download an abécédaire en cursive – this will help you look for landmarks and piece together the number of letters and position of known letters in illegible words. Look at the style and formation of known words for clues.
Understand drug nomenclature.
The WHO’s International Nonproprietary Naming system uses stems and suffixes to describe drug’s action and prefixes to distinguish the drug from others in its pharmaceutical class. You can search the National Library of Medicine’s Drug Information Portal by name or category.
Memorize the most commonly used medical abbreviations and their translations.
If you see Q, PRN, or BID on a prescription, you should instantly know that these are instructions for how often a medication is to be adminstered. If you see BMP in a chart, you should think: basic metabolic panel. Research the abbreviations that are most prevalent in the specialties relevant to your translation practice. Dosages and treatment plans are clues if you know how to use them.
Review the source files prior to accepting – don’t accept any projects that are beyond your pay grade, and falling back on [illegible] when you can’t find the answer is not only unprofessional but also complicates, delays or misinforms the patient’s treatment. That said, if you do accept the project, consider charging an hourly rate – it takes time to properly format and research these projects.