So, you want to become a medical interpreter and do not know where to start?
This is a step by step guide of what you will need to do to become a successful medical interpreter. Ready?
First of all, let’s start by defining what is a medical interpreter:
A medical interpreter is a trained professional who helps people communicate by bridging language barriers in medical settings. If you love helping people, learning about languages and cultures, and have a keen interest in medicine, then this career is perfect for you!
1. Know two or more languages (native or near native proficiency).
You have to be able to switch from one language to another very fast. To do so you need to know the language thoroughly and understand it like a native speaker.
If you are unsure whether or not your language skills are strong enough, you should take a language proficiency test and see how well your listening, speaking and comprehension skills are.
If English is your second language you can take TOEFL, TOEIC, ELPT or any other language proficiency test that gives you a certificate valid for a certain amount of years. If you speak a different language, please check this list of language proficiency tests for different languages (including ASL).
But, knowing the language is just the minimum requirement you also need to:
2. Receive medical interpreting training.
The best and easiest way to start is by getting training from experienced professionals. It will save you a lot of time and mistakes of learning through trial and error. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
What should you learn from your medical interpreting training?
The things you need you need to know to be able to perform your job successfully.
Your training should include AT LEAST:
- Medical terminology (diseases, organs and body systems, medical tests and devices, medical specialties, healthcare professionals, healthcare system, etc.)
You need to be able to understand and translate the most commonly used medical terms to start with, but in your professional practice you will need to develop your own medical terminology management because you are always learning new medical terms while performing your job.
- Interpreters’ Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice
These are the guidelines or principles for professional interpreters’ performance. What should be expected from you as an interpreter? How do you handle a medical encounter professionally? The answers to these questions are critical concepts to learn if you want to provide a quality service in your professional life.
- Roles of the medical interpreter
The interpreter has four basic roles. In a nutshell: conduit (conveying the message from one language to another), clarifier (asking for clarification of something you didn’t understand), culture broker (bringing up potential communication issues due to cultural differences), advocate (promote patient’s well-being when their life or dignity is at risk). You need to learn when and how to switch from one role to another.
- Consecutive interpreting skills
You will need to practice with role-plays that represent a real medical encounter, learn how to develop listening and speaking skills, note-taking for memory retention (to be able to repeat exactly what was said without adding, omitting, or changing anything), code-switching (translating) from one language to another, how to ask for repetitions and deal with impediments of performance. The list is very long. The best thing you can do is:
3. Practice, practice, practice.
Interpreting is a very practical career. It’s especially important to practice when you are a beginner. Through practice you are able to integrate everything that you learned in theory to the real-life tasks and challenges you will have in most (if not all) medical interpreting encounters.
You need to interpret to become an interpreter.
And what is a better way to interpret than in a safe environment in which you can make mistakes and learn without risking anyone’s health or life? InterpreMed.com offers that environment and resources for you.
If you have the time, try to interpret this medical role play (if not, skip to step 4). You may find it difficult, but you can learn how to deal with this and many other interpreting situations with practice and quality feedback.
If you couldn’t finish the previous exercise, don’t be discouraged! It does NOT mean medical interpreting is not for you. It just means you need to learn the techniques and practice more! 🙂
Once you feel your interpreting skills are good enough, you should consider:
4. Getting certified!
If you are located in the United States, there are two major accrediting agencies for medical interpreters: NBCMI (National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters) and CCHI (Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters).
You have to pass a written exam and then an oral exam to get certified. Afterwards, you renew every specific amount of years.
These two agencies have very similar requirements to sit for their exam:
- At least 18 years of age
- High-school diploma (general education)
- 40 hours of medical interpreting training (credited: this mean a training that is approved for them)
- Oral proficiency in English (TOEFL, university degree, high school diploma, etc.)
- Oral proficiency in target language (TOEFL, degree, high school diploma, etc.)
Languages available for these exams:
- CCHI: Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin (Core-CHI for all other languages)
- NBCMI: Spanish, Russian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Mandarin (Hub-CMI for all other languages)
Total cost to get certified: 485 US dollars with a renewal fee (around 300 US dollars) paid every 4 or 5 years (depending on which organization you are certified with).
If you are not in the US, you should check if there are equivalent organizations like NBCMI or CCHI in your country. For example, in the UK the main organization that awards interpreting credentials is the Chartered Institute of Linguist (CIOL). The good news is that you can get certified by NBCMI anywhere in the world with remote testing!
Once you are certified and have work experience, then you should get:
5. Continuing education
Medical culture and languages are always evolving! You have to be up to date with all these changes to adapt and grow with them. As an interpreter you are always learning something new every day: a new word or idiom, cultural beliefs and ethical dilemmas, a medical procedure, you name it. If you want to be an excellent medical interpreter, you will need to continuously sharpen your interpreting skills and medical knowledge.
And that’s how you become an interpreter. Of course, you find challenges along the way. It will take some years to acquire these skills and then some more years to be prepared for (almost) everything that can come up in a medical interpreting encounter.
This is a great profession because you never get bored, there’s always something new to learn and it’s really gratifying to give limited English speakers a voice, so they can have their thoughts and ideas properly heard.
Are you ready to start your journey as a medical interpreter?
I highly suggest you register to InterpreMed.com and become part of a community that will help you to become the best interpreter you can be. You will receive great resources and participate in activities like:
- Weekly Zoom meetings for live medical interpreting practice, discussion and feedback in language-specific groups.
- Access to all previous Zoom meetings’ recordings.
- Consecutive interpreting practice audio recordings with scripts and terminology analysis.
- English-Spanish and Language Neutral (English only) exercises for all other languages.
- Total beginner, beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.
- Medical terminology exercises about all medical departments, phrases and idioms (quizzes, flashcards, low-register vs. high register grids, fill in the blanks, etc.).
- Symbols/note-taking training and practice.
- Memory retention exercises.
- Language-specific Facebook groups for forum discussion.
- Access to monthly activities like: book club, championships, challenges, etc.
- English-Spanish medical glossary with definitions of medical terms.
- Useful resources with: specialized glossaries and useful links for medical interpreters.
As a member you have unlimited access to all resources in the site. You can have your membership as long as you want. No strings attached!
Claudia S Mercer