Industry Check: How to Become a Freelance Medical Language Specialist

I write what’s real.

As a freelancer, you have to face reality and I’m here to give it to you, all without any spoonfuls of sugar to help it go down.

Here’s the truth for today.

As a freelance language professional, the medical field is wide open.

The medical industry (especially in the U.S.) is expanding like crazy right now and there doesn’t seem to be any end to it.

That’s good news for you. It’s good news for me. And it’s good news for anyone else who wants to jump on the bandwagon and get paid working as a medical language specialist.

The best news about working with the medical field is that clients have money to spend and are willing to spend it on language professionals that get the job done.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a translator, writer, interpreter, or anything in between. If you’ve got the skills, you’ll get paid.

First things first, though.

What is the “Medical Industry”?

The medical field is huge.

It includes science and medicine, psychology and thought, diet and exercise, and a million other areas.

There are so many aspects to it that it would be impossible to name them all. So while you might think that you don’t know anything about medicine, or being a doctor, I guarantee that you do know something about the industry.

The trick is to take your existing knowledge and experience and use it to build your expertise in the field and project that on to potential clients.

Building Your Medical Expertise

Most experts say that you need to build an expertise in a particular area and then solely focus on finding work in that specific niche.

I don’t like that. It’s not good for you as a freelancer and severely limits your options.

Let’s say you want to become an expert on liver cancer. OK, fine. So you study tons, read a ton, spend years becoming an expert on liver cancer, and then what? You find a client who wants you to translate or write an article about heart attacks. Uh, you’re not an “expert” on heart attacks so you have to turn it down.

No, that’s not how I work.

Experts devote their whole lives to learn about a single niche. What I do? If I need to know some of what an expert knows about a subject, I spend 20 minutes on the phone talking to an expert about what I really need to know to complete an assignment.

This way I don’t have to limit myself to freelance assignments on a particular topic and lose out on off topic assignments that come my way.

Back in the old days it made sense to spend years becoming an expert in a particular field before writing or translating for that field.

But two things have changed that. Access to information and access to people. Both are way easier now than they’ve ever been.

If you’re not taking advantage of that convenience, you’re losing out and will fall further and further behind.

Finding Medical Clients

OK, so now you know that the medical industry encompasses a bunch of different topical areas and that you don’t have to pick just one.

The next step to becoming a freelance wonder in the medical community is to know where to find work.

No work = No money = No good

Before you go finding all the medical freelance jobs, though, I should tell you something.

Not all medical language jobs are created equal.

Let me show you an example.

Here are the results from following a search on “medical translator”.

medical translator jobs medical translator jobs

See how many results there were?

Seven. In the entire United States.

And out of those seven, five were for interpreters and not translators, and one was for a health program coordinator. That means that only one job was for an actual medical translator.

Now a picture of the results following a search on “medical interpreter.”

medical interpreter
medical interpreter jobs from

What’s the big difference? Well, look at the total number of jobs.

294 total jobs. That’s a lot more than 7.

Finally, a picture of the results following a search on “medical writer.”

medical writer
Medical writer jobs from

What do the differences tell you?

It should tell you that you’re not going to have much luck finding an in-house translator position in the medical field. Instead, you should focus your energy on doing medical interpretation. However, if your interpretation skills aren’t up to snuff, then you’ll have even more success if you focus your language skill on becoming a medical writer.

Now those are for in-house positions.

What about freelancing?

Freelancing is the same. Hospitals have moved beyond using in-house language workers and are instead using freelancers to come in on an as-needed basis.

Sometimes, such as with interpreting, hospitals are even using outside provider agencies to do the interpreting. Telephone interpreting has taken a major hold in the medical field.

A doctor merely has to call up a number when a patient requires interpretation and the conversation can happen all over the phone without even having to call someone in to the office.

Convenience is the name of the game here and as a language professional, you need to make sure that your solution is the most convenient for that medical client.

So most likely you’re not going to find an in-house language gig at a local hospital or medical office. That’s just now how things work anymore.

But that’s OK because you’re giving up that job suck, right? You’re freelance. Feel to choose.

Now it’s time to choose where to find medical clients.

And with that, here are 10 places to find language work in the medical industry:

1.Insurance Companies
2.General Hospitals
3.Health and Wellness Centers
4.Speciality Hospitals/Clinics
5.Research/University Hospitals
7.Doctor Office
8.Substance Abuse Centers
9.Mental Health Clinics/Facilities
10.County/City/State health offices

Actually getting your first clients in the medical field is going to be the same as any other freelance work. You’re going to have to bust your butt to get assignments.

One of the most important things I’ve learned in my freelance career is that freelancing isn’t for everyone.

If you’re not comfortable talking to people, putting yourself out there, making mistakes, and facing rejection after rejection, then freelancing is not for you.

There’s no shame in that.

Better to admit it now and try something else than to try and do something you’re fundamentally incapable of doing.

That’s not to say that you can’t learn how to become that way.

I did.

But it takes work at the very least and if you don’t want to put in the effort, just quit now.

Before you reach out to potential clients, though, it’s important to understand what kind of language needs they might need so that you can tailor your message to that need.

OK, so let’s talk about hospitals.

Primarily, hospital literature consists of flyers, brochures, and information provided to patients. Most of this stuff is already in English, some of it is in Spanish, and almost none of it is in any other language.

If you’re a freelance translator, this could be a good angle for you.

If you’re a freelance writer, you should be able to take advantage of the amount of information hospitals print up to provide to their patients and offer to write these types of communications.

And of course we’ve already established that if you’re a freelance interpreter, you have plenty of opportunities to provide your language skills in that capacity.

While the corporate bureaucracy at a hospital can be a tough nut to crack unless you know someone who can grease the skids, doctor and dentist offices are much more approachable.

They also provide an easy way to start, especially if you have a doctor or dentist you or a family member go to regularly.

You’ve already got an in, so to speak. Time to use it.

Next time you go for a visit and while your chitchatting with the receptionist, mention that you’re a freelance language ninja and that you’ve noticed that their newsletter/website/mailings suck and that improving them would improve the practice’s bottom line.

Oh, and that you have some openings in your schedule to take on the assignment.

You might want to use a bit more tack than that, but you get the idea.

Don’t stop with the receptionist, though. Mention the same thing to your doctor. The receptionist might not give a shit about the practice’s crappy communications strategy, but I guarantee that your doctor will, as long as you can give her a compelling argument for improving it.

I mentioned newsletters earlier but I think it’s important to go back to that.

Almost every medical facility from hospitals to gyms to insurance agencies put out newsletters. Some of these are in the form of mailers that get sent out to customers on a regular schedule.

Others take the form of online newsletters that either get emailed to customers or are posted regularly on a provider’s website.

For example, I just got a newsletter email from the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.

medical newsletter
Medical newsletter from Princeton.

This newsletter gets sent out once a month. And guess how many other medical centers send one out? Every single one.

Someone has to write those. Someone has to translate those.

I can only do so many.

You might as well join in and take advantage of the opportunity.


5 thoughts on “Industry Check: How to Become a Freelance Medical Language Specialist”

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