How to Become a Certified Medical Interpreter

February 28, 2024
How to Become a Certified Medical Interpreter

Do you have excellent language skills and an interest in medicine?

Medical interpretation can be rewarding both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. We’ve taken a look at what’s involved in medical interpreter certification, from basics such as an interpreter definition to national healthcare association requirements in different countries.

If you’re wondering how to become an interpreter, you’re in the right place. Read on to discover how to become a certified medical interpreter! 

What Does Interpretation Mean?

Do you already translate for a living? If you’re a certified translator – and particularly if you’re a medical translator, then medical interpreter training could be a logical next step in your career.

Interpretation refers to the conversion of one spoken language to another. In Spanish interpreter jobs, for example, the interpreter listens to someone speaking in Spanish and then relays the information to others in English (or vice versa). 

Why Is Medical Interpretation a Good Career Choice?

Would you like a career that lets you use your language skills while also helping people? One where there’s strong demand for your expertise? And where you can command a decent salary?

Let’s talk money. The average hourly medical interpreter salary is $24.40 in the US, according to Indeed. That compares to an average hourly translator salary of $20.03.

In terms of demand, medical interpreter jobs are available all over the world. They’re not just to serve those who fall ill while on holiday. In the US, for example, only 80% of the population speak English as their main language. This drives a strong need for medical interpretation within the healthcare system.

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What Skills Do You Need to Become a Medical Interpreter? 

Whether you’re looking at how to become a translator or how to become an interpreter, a deep love of languages is an absolute must. You’re dealing with language day in, day out, so you need to have a passion for it if you’re going to enjoy your career!

In addition to language skills, you need to be able to process two streams of information at once – the language you’re hearing and the language you’re speaking. Some people find this easier than others. If you’re not sure of your ability, try listening to the radio in one language and translating it aloud as you listen. If the process is a breeze, it’s time to explore the certification process and consider whether interpretation services are right for you. 

What Does a Medical Interpreter Do?

A medical interpreter plays a crucial role in healthcare settings by facilitating communication between patients and healthcare providers who do not speak the same language. They ensure accurate and clear translation of medical terminology, patient instructions, and other crucial health-related information, contributing to effective patient care and reducing the risk of misunderstandings in medical contexts.

Key Responsibilities of a Medical Interpreter:

1. Translation of Medical Terminology: Involves the precise interpretation of complex healthcare terms and procedures into the patient's language, ensuring both parties fully understand medical conditions, treatments, and instructions.
2. Patient Advocacy: Acts as the voice for patients, conveying their questions, concerns, and decisions back to the healthcare team, ensuring patient-centered care.
3. Cultural Mediation: Addresses and resolves potential cultural misunderstandings, ensuring cultural beliefs are respected in the treatment plan.
4. Confidentiality Maintenance: Strict adherence to HIPAA laws and ethical standards, safeguarding all patient information.
5. Continual Learning: Engages in ongoing education to keep abreast of medical advancements and terminology, enhancing service quality.

Medical Certifications Around the World 

Like translator certification, interpreter certification is different in each country. If you want to discover more about how to become a certified translator, click the link below.

If you’re looking to get certified in a particular country, find out what’s required from your local health authority and national association for interpretation. If you’re based in California, for example, speak to the California Board of Medicine about their requirements. In fact, let’s look at how to gain a medical terminology certificate in the US right now.

Read more: How to Become a Certified Translator

How to Become a US Medical Interpreter 

Tomedes provides medical translation for clients around the world. If you’re already a medical translator, would you like to branch out into interpreting too? Let’s look at how you can turn your translation certification into an interpretation career.

In the US, you can become a certified medical interpreter through the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) or the National Board for Certified Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). In both cases, you must be aged 18 or older, be educated to at least high school diploma or GED level and have completed at least 40 hours of medical interpreting training. You can complete the latter through a range of 40-hour programmes designed specifically for that purpose.

The CCHI requires that you demonstrate linguistic proficiency in both English and the other language for which you are seeking certification. The NBCMI, meanwhile, requires you to show proficiency in English through a Bachelor’s degree, Masters Degree, Ph.D., or other higher education degree. Passes in numerous tests (TOEFL and IELTS, for example) also qualify. Roughly the same is required in the applicant’s second language, as well as a higher education degree in a country that speaks the target language. Advanced Mid-Level passes in oral exams given by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages will also suffice.

For those qualifying with the NBCMI, certification is available in Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese and Cantonese. Applicants complete an oral and a written exam in order to obtain certification.

Those interpreting other languages need to go through the CCHI. Obtaining national medical certification through the CCHI involves passing a computer-based, multiple choice medical interpreting exam with 100 questions. Oral examinations also take place in English, Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin.

Once qualified, you need to complete 32 hours of continuing education every four years for the CCHI and 30 hours every five years for the NBCMI in order to retain your certification. 

Medical Interpretation in the UK

If you want to work as a medical interpreter in the UK, you don’t need a particular qualification, but a degree or postgraduate degree in languages or interpreting is highly recommended.

With that in hand, it’s time to seek out a professional qualification – the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting (DPSI). Available through the Chartered Institute of Linguists, as well as various UK universities, the DPSI tests an interpreter’s linguistic skills, specialist knowledge, interpreting techniques and ethical approach.

An interpreter with a DPSI is perfectly positioned to apply for medical interpretation jobs throughout the UK, using their certification as evidence of their skill. Those looking to take a certified languages international approach can also use this to demonstrate their abilities. 

Becoming a Medical Interpreter 

Once you’ve obtained your certification, it’s time to find your first medical interpreting jobs. As a translation agency that has worked with thousands of translators and interpreters, you can register with us (or similar companies) or opt to work freelance. In either case, you have the opportunity to use your linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to help those in need.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.



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