Become a Spanish Medical Interpreter: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 03, 2020

Learn how to become a Spanish medical interpreter. Research the job description and education and certification requirements, and find out how to start a career in Spanish medical interpreting.

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Spanish Medical Interpreter

Spanish medical interpreters work with patients who speak limited English to help them communicate with medical staff. Demand for the job is going to grow at a faster-than-average rate from 2018-2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the Bureau especially noted an anticipated need for Spanish interpreters and translators in the health care field. However, the work can be stressful and involve working long or irregular hours.

Fluency in both Spanish and English is essential for Spanish medical interpreters, and they often are required to have a bachelor's degree. They need excellent communication skills and cultural sensitivity. The BLS reported that interpreters and translators in general earned an average annual salary of $49,930 as of May 2018.

Career Requirements at a Glance

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Spanish language, translation studies, healthcare
Certification Not required but may help in obtaining employment
Experience Often required; gain experience via volunteering or internships
Key Skills In-depth knowledge of Spanish and English languages, excellent communication skills, cultural sensitivity
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 19% growth (for all translators and interpreters)
Median Salary (2018)* $49,930 (for all translators and interpreters)

Sources:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Let's look explore the steps involved to become a Spanish medical interpreter.

Step 1: Become Fluent in Spanish

In addition to converting words from one language to another, medical interpreters must also keep the context, syntax and style as close to the original form as possible. They are also familiar with Spanish culture so that they can better communicate and explain ideas and terms to patients. Aspiring interpreters can improve their fluency in Spanish by reading different forms of literature, spending time abroad in Spanish-speaking countries, and speaking with native Spanish speakers.

Step 2: Earn a Degree

Educational requirements for medical interpreters depend on the employer, but a bachelor's degree typically is required. Students can major in interpretation studies or Spanish, but majoring in a healthcare-related field could also be beneficial.

Step 3: Complete a Certificate Program

Another educational option for people who are fluent in Spanish and English is to earn a certificate as a Spanish/English medical interpreter. Some certificate programs require that applicants work in the medical field. Courses might cover interpretation ethics, forms of interpretation, linguistic skills, healthcare terminology interpretation, and cultural differences.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience

Internships provide interpretation students the opportunity to gain on-the-job training while still in school and may sometimes lead to an entry-level job after graduation. For example, aspiring interpreters might look to the American Translators Association, which has partnered with the American Red Cross, to offer volunteer positions in the medical field.

According to the BLS, healthcare is one of the highest areas of demand for interpreters. Providing medical interpreters for patients with limited English proficiency is mandatory under title IV of the Civil Rights Act.

Step 5: Take a Certification Exam

Certification isn't mandatory for medical interpreters, but acquiring certification might give candidates an edge over their competition. It demonstrates that the candidate is a competent Spanish medical interpreter as guaranteed by a professional, educational, or government organization. No national certification standard exists; however, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters has developed a broad certification program for medical interpreters. Prerequisites for taking the exam include a minimum of one year working as a medical interpreter, a high school diploma or the equivalent, fluency in Spanish and English, and at least 40 hours of medical interpreter training.

Once qualified, candidates must pass computer-based and oral exams that test applicants on medical terminology, protocol for interacting with healthcare professionals, and accurate interpretation. Those who successfully pass the exams become Spanish Certified Healthcare Interpreters.

To recap, to become a Spanish medical interpreter you'll need to be fluent in Spanish and English. You might also need to complete a bachelor's degree program. Voluntary certification could enhance your job prospects.

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