Medical Interpreter Certification and Training Program Info

Read about certificate and undergraduate degree programs for the aspiring medical interpreter. See program summaries as well as prerequisites and potential coursework. Check the employment outlook and salary statistics for interpreters and translators.

Essential Information

Medical interpreters assist individuals in communicating with health care staff members or others in the health care industry. They help those who possess limited English-speaking skills and who are unable to communicate effectively. Certificate and associate's degree programs exist that prepare medical interpreters. Applicants should be proficient in more than one language, and they could be required to pass language-skills examinations prior to admission.

At the certificate level, students may become prepared for entry-level employment. They learn about medical facilities operations and gain an understanding of ethics, standards and terminology in the medical profession. Associate's degree programs take up to two years to complete, and they prepare students to earn professional certifications. Emphasizing topics such as social communication, telephone interpretation and stress management, these programs are designed to teach students to interpret in various settings.

Aspiring medical interpreters can apply to the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters to obtain certification after meeting educational requirements. Students must pass written and oral tests in order to receive such a credential.

Certificate in Medical Interpreting

Aspiring medical interpreters can begin their education by enrolling in a certificate training program. Certificate programs prepare students for entry-level careers in medical translation. Students gain the ability to exercise skilled interpretation services, learn basic knowledge of medical procedures and understand basic functions of a hospital or medical facility. In helping medical interpreters build language skills, some certificate programs include Spanish and Chinese curricula.

Education Prerequisites

Certificate programs are available at most community colleges and have minimal application requirements. Some colleges may evaluate language skills by an oral or written examination. This is required to determine the applicants' proficiency in various languages.

Program Coursework

Students taking courses in medical interpreting develop the ability to comprehend verbal usage in the medical industry. They also learn how to maintain professionalism and how to adapt in multiple health care settings. Courses in medical interpretation may cover:

  • Ethics in the medical field
  • Principles of interpreting
  • Medical standards
  • Terminology in the medical field
  • Translating and interpreting language with words

Popular Career Options

Upon earning a certificate, graduates possess the proper skills and abilities to begin their medical interpretation career. They can also expand their career into different fields other than the medical area:

  • Government medical interpreter
  • Interpretation services planner
  • Workforce interpreter

Associate Degree in Interpreting

Those who wish to further their education in medical interpreting may choose to enroll in a degree program focusing on interpretation. These programs are designed for bilingual students to learn how to provide interpretation services well enough to earn certification. Common degree programs include the Associate in Applied Science in Health Care Interpreting, Associate in Applied Science in Translating and Interpreting and the Associate in Language Interpreting.

Education Prerequisites

Generally, potential students must be high school graduates and at least 18 years of age. They also must be bilingual, meet placement requirements and pass a language skills test.

Program Coursework

Students gain critical thinking skills and learn communication techniques in communication to help individuals make medical decisions. They also learn how to perform interpretations in a range of surroundings and how to apply professional ethics. Through core courses, students may explore some of the following topics:

  • Foreign societies and relations
  • Composition of the human body
  • English
  • Social communication
  • Telephone interpretation
  • Stress management
  • Technical writing

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of interpreters and translators was expected to increase by 46%, much faster than the average for all occupations between 2012 and 2022 ( The BLS also expected that interpreter and translator jobs should be plentiful in health care. A May 2013 BLS report of average wages for interpreters and translators showed that they earned $47,920 per year.

Professional Certification and Continuing Education Information

The BLS states that there isn't one general type of certification required for interpreters. Further, certification isn't required by all employers, but demonstrates proficiency in the field which may lead to more job opportunities.

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) offers certification for medical interpreters. Candidates must have at least one year of medical interpretation work experience to be eligible. Additionally, they must be 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete an approved medical interpreter training program, possess extensive knowledge of the English language and have expertise in at least one other language. To gain certification, applicants also need to pass an oral and written exam.

The NBCMI requires certification to be renewed every five years and the completion of 30 continuing education units. To maintain certification a membership must be maintained with an interpreter association or organization.

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