The profession of a medical interpreter gains popularity in recent years as a result of the growing number of people in America who do not speak English. In addition to that title IV of the Civil Rights Act stipulates that providing medical interpretation for patients with limited English knowledge is mandatory. Hence, there is a sphere in the field of interpretation that is expected to keep attracting qualified professionals who are able to provide efficient services to patients and medical representatives. 

If you have an interest in healthcare and in languages, the profession of the medical interpreter may turn out to be the right one for you. Below you can find out what it takes to become a medical interpreter and how to get ready for your assignments once you are on the job. 

First Steps to Becoming a Certified Medical Interpreter  

In order to work as an interpreter at a medical facility, you need to invest some time and efforts in acquiring the right qualification. There are actually five main steps that you need to implement in order to become a certified medical interpreter and here they are.  

  1. Master a foreign language
    In order to be a good interpreter in any field, you need to master a foreign language at a near-native level being familiar with the syntax, grammar, style, and context. Knowing the culture and mentality of the people whose language you are learning is also of great importance. It is a good idea to spend some time in the country if you have that option, to read literature in the foreign language and speak with native speakers. A college degree in the foreign language will be of great help if you want to become an interpreter but is not a must. 
    If you’re consider becoming a medical interpreter, it may be a good idea to research which language is more sought after in your area and invest your time in mastering it. Spanish is one of the most popular foreign languages spoken in the USA and quite often Spanish medical interpreters are required by various medical facilitaties.  
  2. Earn a degree
    To stand a better chance of being hired as a medical interpreter, it is best to invest in earning a bachelor’s degree. One of the options is to get a degree in the foreign language but you can also choose to study interpretation, social studies or complete a medical-related program. Having a graduate or undergraduate degree will be your competitive advantage when applying for a job.  
  3. Complete a special accredited medical interpreter training course
    Attending a special accredited medical interpreter training course is a requirement for every aspiring medical interpreter. The course should be at least 40 hours and cover topics such as forms of interpretation, ethics, linguistic skills, cultural differences, medical terminology. It is a good idea to take the course with a local agency since your chances of getting hired by them afterward are more likely.  
  4. Gain work experience
    Many medical facilities require experience in order to hire you as an interpreter, no matter if you will be on an in-house position or on a contract as a freelancer. You can gain experience in the field by completing different internships while still a student or by working as a volunteer. The American Red Cross has partnered with the American Translators Association to provide an opportunity for volunteers to work in the field of medicine.  
  5. Become a certified medical interpreter 
    The final step in the process is to become a nationally certified medical interpreter. While certification is not mandatory, it is often required by employers and is definitely a plus for any professional in the field. There are two institutions that offer medical interpreter certification – the  National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI). The certification process includes an oral and written exam in the foreign language that you speak. In order to apply for certification you need to have at least one year experience as a medical interpreter, a bachelor’s degree, proficient knowledge of English and a foreign language and a certificate for completion of an accredited medical interpreter training course.  

In addition to that, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) offers certification for sign language interpreters. If you have mastered American Sign Language and you want to become a medical interpreter, you need to take their exam to get a certificate.

How to Prepare for your Medical Interpreter Assignments  

Whether you work for a language service provider or as an in-house interpreter at a medical facility, it is good to know how to prepare yourself for a given assignment. There are a few essential things that you need to have with you, which will make you both look more professional and facilitate your work: 

  • A professional bag where you can put all your things. Opt for comfort and neutral colors. It is good to choose a bag that is big enough to accommodate all the necessary items for your job and keep it well organized. 
  • A binder where you can store all the paperwork you need for your assignment. This may include hard copies of employment verification forms that have all the information you need for your assignment or any other additional certificates or documents required by the medical facility. 
  • A notebook to take notes. It is more comfortable to use a spiral notebook as it is easier to write on it. You can use the book to jot down important information while interpreting such as names of prescribed medicines. 
  • Pens – at least 3-4 to make sure that you always have one that works. Choose a pen that writes “easily” and fits well in your hand.  
  • A paperback bilingual dictionary with medical terminology is of great help for your job. Do not rely only on online dictionaries as you may not have access to the internet or your battery may be low. 
  • Phone and charger – some assignments may take a bit longer and you need to be prepared. 
  • Badge – last but not least, do not forget your badge that shows your name and the agency that you work for. If you have several assignments for the day with different agencies, make sure to take all your badges with you and put on the right one.  

You may want to take a bottle of water and something to read with you, in case you have some spare time and you have to wait between assignments. Do not forget your professional attire – dress comfortably but with a style that presents you as the professional you are.

The growth rates for the profession of interpreters and translators are expected to be higher than the average for the next few years and the demand for medical interpreters, in particular, should remain stable. The job is perfect for those who are passionate about languages and helping people and have a certain interest in the field of medicine. Once you have realized that the job of the interpreter is the right for you, take one step further and accept the challenge of becoming a medical interpreter.