health care interpreting, medical interpreting, telephonic interpreting

Under the Headset: The Joy of Working in Pajama Pants

IMG_1670This month’s post comes from a fellow healthcare interpreter, Anna Stieg, an Ohio-based interpreter who shares her experience of moving from onsite work to telephonic work. She’s got some fun insights, and a lot of what she shares will resonate with any interpreter. Thanks, Anna, for your contribution!


Two days ago, as I was putting on my pajama pants, my boyfriend asked me why I was getting dressed for work. Pajama pants, people. And the truth is, he wasn’t wrong. I work in pajama pants! Most days. Recently I have added some black sweats into the rotation. And I do shower and put on makeup every day. This is how I “show up” to bankruptcy court, all kinds of hospital visits, inmate physicals, financial calls for loans, and more. Recently, I made a life changing decision to leave my dream job as a staff interpreter and move three states to the right so that my boyfriend could pursue his career as a college professor. I was lucky enough to quickly be taken on by a telephonic interpreting company who could care less what I wear under my headset. (Pajama pants! Sweatpants!) The transition was fast – within two weeks of leaving a job which was a mixture of face-to-face, VRI (video remote interpreting) and telephonic interpreting (nationally and within the organization) I switched to full-time telephonic interpreting. All the time. This was daunting to me. But here are some things I have learned, in a very eye-opening month since the transition:


  1. Standards are high! Yay! I was afraid, coming into this, that the assessment to join the company would be lackluster, and that clients would not know how to treat the interpreter. However, I found the company’s interpreter assessment (two parts, written and oral, plus a general interview) both highly efficient and extremely well done. And streamlined. The hiring process was fast but very informative and helpful. I know how to get support, I know what’s expected of me, and I know that other interpreters are able to provide a specific standard of interpreting. That makes me happy, and proud, to call myself a telephonic interpreter.


  1. Also, I should not have worried about clients and the interpreter: so far, I have been referred to as “Madame Interpreter” across the board by every operator who has connected me to clients. Madame Interpreter is very pleased by this.


  1. Some calls are scary because they are situations which are new to me, like legal calls or very official court calls. Not knowing when the phone rings exactly what kind of call you might be getting yourself into can really crank up your anxiety. However, as in any interpreting situation, it’s important to check yourself, take a deep breath, and focus. Or, as my interpreting program instructor Tamesia Sosa taught us: Focus on the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” and work through it! My mental focusing works, most of the time, and I was able to realize that telephonic interpreting has certain perks, even beyond the pajama pants. I can look up words online without anyone ever knowing. I can crank the volume on my headset to blast to make sure I don’t miss anything. I can slow down the perceived speed of the encounter by really remembering that I am trained for this, and using those skills to do the best job I possibly can.


  1. I have had experiences with providers/staff insisting that they don’t like using telephonic interpreters. More often than not, this is due to a lack of familiarity with how the telephones work. I will never argue that face-to-face should be completely replaced by telephonic interpreters, because I do believe that certain situations are too delicate/tricky/loud/quiet/most anything to do with mental health for the telephonic interpreter to be able to do a good job. However, I would always rather have a provider feel comfortable calling a qualified telephonic interpreter than using a family member to “get by”. Also, conditions are not always perfect on the other side of the telephone. I have been very lucky to have very great call quality on the majority of my calls, and very understanding clients when I did have to explain that the call quality was not good. I have been fortunate, but I am also adept at the techniques of the unbiased listener. Some rules I live by: Always be open to (in my case) English OR Spanish, from either speaker! This greatly helps you understand (in my case) “Spanish” words like “e-shee-ro” (sheetrock) without getting extremely confused and taking forever to figure out what is happening. Street names, addresses of clinics and hospitals, and really any type of proper noun will also kill you when you interpret nationally. Always. Take. Notes. And write things down phonetically! Then just give it your best Anglicized approximation of what was said and usually the name is recognized by the listener as something familiar. Sometimes doing your job well means not overthinking it. Sometimes, if the speaker says something that makes absolutely no sense, and a clarification gets you nowhere, go with your gut that this is a crazy conversation and leave it up to the provider to clarify from there on out.


There are so many things that can make telephonic interpreting difficult, but I’m also finding out that there are an equal number of things that make it a version of the best job possible. Time flies when I am focused on a call. I love that I get to continue doing my job even though I moved and I’m not yet familiar with the area. I love that, once I do manage to get some face-to-face appointments in the area to combine with the telephonic gig, I can count on it and I can count on enjoying it. Interpreting, in whatever capacity, isn’t for everyone, but when you know it’s for you, there’s absolutely no bigger thrill than a job well done.


Anna Stieg is a Certified Healthcare Interpreter currently working from her home in Kent, Ohio. Anna previously worked as a staff interpreter in Madison, Wisconsin, and recently finished a term serving on the Board of the NCIHC. She has been interpreting professionally for about 5 years and absolutely loves this job! She aspires to someday join a staff team in the Cleveland area. She can be reached via email at

1 thought on “Under the Headset: The Joy of Working in Pajama Pants”

Leave a Reply