Healthcare Interpreter Testing and Training

Basic Breakdown: Medical Interpreter Training & Certification

August 4, 2022
Basic Breakdown Medical Interpreter Certification

Welcome to our “Basic Breakdown” series where we share all our insider knowledge on the types of language services and solutions possible for a variety of industries. Our goal is to help alleviate confusion between the many options offered by LSCs to help arm you with the knowledge YOU need to make the best decisions for your organization.

You may be wondering:

  • Why should I become a certified medical interpreter?
  • Is a 40-hour medical interpreter training really necessary?

We’re here to answer with a resounding YES.

Here’s why:

There is a very high demand for trained, professional interpreters in the United States. According the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, total employment for interpreters and translators is projected to grow by 20% by 2031. This growth rate is significantly higher than the ‘All Occupations’ national average of 7%. In 2021, the top 10% of interpreters commanded more the $47 per hour. One of the best ways to differentiate yourself and work your way up to the top tier of interpreters is to choose a specialization and become an expert in that area.

Healthcare is a great choice as the demand from hospitals will only continue to grow as federal regulations continue to closely monitor to ensure that adequate language services are provided to Limited-English Proficient (LEP) patients.

Medical interpreting is also highly rewarding on a personal level. On the flip side, it’s important to note that it can be very difficult at times if you are dealing with something such as an end of life discussion. Although it’s the interpreters duty to remain unbiased, it doesn’t mean you can’t feel fulfilled and rewarded knowing that you spent your day facilitating crucial conversations between doctors and patients who, without you, may have felt completely lost and helpless.

According to the National Board of Certification For Medical Interpreters, other benefits of becoming a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) include:

  • Recognition: industry stakeholders recognize CMIs for their quality work, and the CMI credential crosses state lines
  • Inclusiveness: the same credential is used for all medical interpreters (in person and remote)
  • Simplicity: get certified instead of having to prove your competence to every employer or health care facility

If you are interested in becoming a certified medical interpreter or work in healthcare and want to better understand the world of medical interpreters, continue reading for a full breakdown on what medical interpreter training entails and how to pursue certification.

How To Become A Certified Medical Interpreter:

Step 1: Complete An Accredited Medical Interpreter Training Course  

The first step to getting certified, whether you have been interpreting for decades or are brand new to the language industry, is to identify a reputable medical interpreter training.

Medical interpreter training’s will look different based on the provider but here is a brief synopsis of what is taught in the training we offer which is a nationally recognized curriculum endorsed by CCHI as a “prerequisite program”:

iTi’s medical interpreter training delivers from two perspectives:

  1. Interpreting in healthcare ethical principles
  2. National standard interpreting protocols

The course is based on the federal standards for providing Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services as issues by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, as well as national standards of practice for healthcare interpreting as issues by the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care.

The training focuses on:

  • Interpreting techniques
  • Medical/mental health terminology and colloquial language
  • Developing an understanding of communication strategies
  • Developing listening and memorization skills
  • Ethical guidelines
  • Decision-making

Upon completion of your medical interpreter training course, you will receive a certificate of completion. You are now a trained medical interpreter and qualify for certification!

It’s important to note:

  • Certification is not a federal requirement, yet. Many language service companies and medical facilities hire qualified medical interpreters without certification.
  • Many facilities and the medical and language industries are raising their standards. If we want to continue to raise the bar for the interpreting industry, we believe it’s important to follow through with certification.
  • Becoming a certified medical interpreter will open career and professional development opportunities. As interpreting becomes an increasingly popular career choice, choosing a niche like medical interpreter certification will set you apart. Plus, it is a profession that is desperately needed throughout our country.

Step 2: Get Certification Through a National Board  

There are presently two National Boards that certify medical interpreters. We will discuss each one to help you decide which you want to pursue.

Certification Commission For Healthcare Interpreters

CCHI was founded in July 2009 with the purpose to develop and administer a comprehensive certification program for healthcare interpreters to help ensure quality of interpreting in any healthcare setting and in any modality of interpreting.

CCHI is “the first and only organization certifying healthcare interpreters to receive NCCA accreditation for its certification programs.”

CCHI offers two types of certifications with different language offerings for each:

1. The CHI Certification

  • Available for Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish medical interpreters.
  • This requires both an “written” knowledge exam and and oral performance exam
  • This exam is language specific

     Costs for The CHI Certification

  • Application fee: $40
  • Written exam: $191
  • Oral exam: $302

2. The CoreCHI Certification

  • Available for all other languages
  • This is a language-neutral certification that includes a “written” knowledge exam in English

     Costs for The CoreCHI Certification

  • Application fee: $40
  • Examination: 191

Maintaining Your Certification

Both certifications are valid for four years. To renew your certification you are required to:

  • Have 40 hours of work experience as a medical interpreter, divided in 20 hours per a two-year cycle
  • Complete 32 hours of Continuing Education (CE) in healthcare interpreting, divided in 16 hours per a two-year cycle, with a minimum of 2 CE hours in performance based training every two-year cycle.
  • Pay the $300 fee every two-year cycle

More information on CCHI’s renewal requirements here.


The National Board of Certification For Medical Interpreters

The National Board of Certification For Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) offers “the most prestigious credential available in the field of medical interpreting.” Their exams test adequate knowledge of the medical interpreting profession, including ethics, standards of practice, role boundaries and medical terminology, among other important competencies.

NBCMI currently offers the Certified Medical Interpreter credential in six languages:

  1. Spanish
  2. Cantonese
  3. Mandarin
  4. Russian
  5. Korean
  6. Vietnamese

If your language is not listed above, NBCMI offers an official letter indicating that the candidate has met all prerequisites for the certification program, has passed the written exam, and is qualified to take the oral exam once available in their language pair.

Navigating Certification:

When you register with NBCMI, you will be assigned a program adviser to help you navigate the certification process. The basic breakdown of the process is as follows:

  1. Register for the CMI program: $35
  2. Take and pass the written exam: $175
  3. Take and pass the oral exam: $275

Maintaining Your Certification:

Re-certification is due every 5 years. To maintain your credential:

  1. Submit the re-certification fee: $300
  2. Submit 3 CEUs: 30 hours of approved continuing education

Payments and CEUs are due with 45 days of the expiration date.

Differences Between NBCMI and CCHI Certifications  

Certification and Beyond  

We highly encourage you to conduct your own research into each of the certification boards to determine which would be the best fit. If you decide to get certified (and we hope that you do!) congratulations for stepping into this pivotal role.

Not only will you be entering a highly rewarding career but you will support your local community in receiving equitable health services. You will also be among an elite class of interpreters who every day help to propel our industry forward.

We encourage you to get involved in your local medical interpreter organizations and help us in the quest to show the nation the importance of the work we put in every day. In the very least, you will have a tremendous impact on individual lives. And that in of itself is the greatest reward.

iTi Medical Interpreters  

The dedicated experts at Interpreters and Translators, Inc. have extensive experience with implementing language access solutions for healthcare systems. We are HIPAA compliant and guarantee full confidentiality with every interaction between our organizations. We work with qualified and certified medical interpreters and all translators have extensive medical translation experience. You can rest easy that nothing with ever be lost in translation when you work with team iTi.

We have partnered with many healthcare systems to fully implement language services and support the training of staff. If patient satisfaction and health equity are priorities for your healthcare organization, please feel free to contact us for a complimentary consultation to assess which solution will be a great fit.  860-968-6781.

Originally posted September 4, 2018.  Updated to reflect current data September 8, 2022.


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