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Hospital Interpreter: Certification and Career Roadmap

Learn about the education required to become a hospital interpreter. Also, find out about salary and career prospects for this career, and explore certification options. View article »

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  • 0:03 Hospital Interpreter Overview
  • 1:12 Consider an…
  • 1:43 Determine State Requirements
  • 2:12 Pursue Certification
  • 3:03 Gain Experience
  • 3:48 Continue Your Education

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Video Transcript

Hospital Interpreter Overview

Hospital interpreters provide interpretation services to hospital patients who have limited English proficiency so they can communicate with doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff. Hospitals that receive federal funding are required to have interpretation services available for those who need them. Hospital interpreters should be proficient in at least two languages, possess a knowledge of medical technology in those languages, and be aware of cultural influences. Protecting confidential patient information, in accordance with hospital policies, is of paramount importance for working with patients who speak little to no English. Interpreters sometimes work via telephone or using video remote interpreting technology.

Hospital interpreters should be communicative, reliable, punctual, and sensitive to multiple cultural backgrounds. Those who focus on interpersonal relationships and are able to comprehend complex information, maintain important medical documents, and conform to written guidelines and policies will excel in this position. Let's explore the steps required to become a hospital interpreter.

Step 1: Consider an Educational Program

Some hospitals only require that their interpreters have a high school diploma or GED, while others seek applicants with a postsecondary certificate or degree. Several educational institutions offer medical interpretation certificate programs, which may prove most useful for aspiring hospital interpreters. These programs are available on campus and online. Another option is a bachelor's degree program in a second language.

Step 2: Determine State Requirements

Some states may have certification requirements for hospital interpreters. For example, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) requires state-issued certification for interpreters offering services to DSHS clients. In California, hospital interpreters in general are not required to be certified, but the state does offer medical interpreter certification, which is required for those interpreters who testify in court.

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Step 3: Pursue Certification

Several organizations offer voluntary certification for hospital interpreters. For example, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) offers the Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) and Core Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CoreCHI) designations. These credentials are available to hospital interpreters who have completed at least 40 hours of healthcare interpreter training and passed an oral (for the CHI) or multiple-choice (for the CoreCHI) exam. Certification also is available through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, which offers the Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) credential. Applicants must have completed a medical interpreter education program, be proficient in at least two language, and pass an exam.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Employers usually require experience, if not as a hospital interpreter, then in interpreting in general. One way this can be acquired is by volunteering your services, for example, through organizations like the American Red Cross.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), interpreters and translators could expect a 29% increase in job opportunities between 2014 and 2024, which was about four times the national average for all careers. The BLS reported that interpreters and translators who worked with general medical and surgical hospitals earned a mean annual wage of $47,210 as of May 2015.

Step 5: Continue Your Education

Hospital interpreters can add to their portfolio by becoming proficient in additional languages or increasing proficiency in provider-required languages through college courses and degrees. Also, an interpreter might pursue medical courses or a degree to become familiar with medical terminology and techniques.

In summary, to become a hospital interpreter, you might need to complete a medical interpretation certificate program. Some states require certification, and voluntary national certification is available.

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