How to Become a Health Care Interpreter

How to Become a Health Care Interpreter

A health care interpreter needs to have both deep fluency in at least two different languages and a detailed working knowledge of medical terminology in both those languages.

Without thorough understanding of each language's words for the same healthcare procedures, problems, and concepts, useful translation is impossible.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

In the United States, the two most common languages are English and Spanish. Most health care interpreters who intend on practicing in the U.S. seek to become fluent in Spanish early on and continue throughout their education.

However, individuals may choose any language they desire, including sign language, as the focus of their education. Language alone is not enough to become an interpreter. An acute understanding of the cultural aspects related to the chosen second language is also key to success.

It's advisable for students seeking to become a health care interpreter to choose the corresponding foreign language as their area of study during their university experience, and to attain as much experience using that language as possible.

The preparation timeline below provides an example Spanish curriculum:

Grade Level Example Courses
  • College Algebra
  • Intermediate Spanish I
  • Intermediate Spanish II
  • Biology I & Lab
  • English I
  • English II
  • Health & Fitness
  • General Education
  • Humanities Requirements
  • Electives
  • Communications I
  • Advanced Spanish Language I
  • Advanced Spanish Language II
  • Medical Terminology
  • Psychology I
  • Statistics
  • General Education
  • Requirements
  • Electives
  • Spanish for Health Professions
  • Spanish Conversation I
  • Spanish for Business
  • Spanish Civilizations
  • General Education
  • Requirements
  • Electives
  • Spanish Conversation II
  • Survey of Spanish Literature
  • Spanish Classics
  • Spanish-American Civilization
  • Contemporary Spanish-American Narrative
  • Advanced Composition
  • Remaining Requirements
  • Remaining Electives

2. Earn a CCHI Certification

Those wanting to enter the field of health care interpreting should consider becoming certified. For these professionals, there are two primary entities that offer such credentials: the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI).

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) offers the highest credential available (CHI or CoreCHI) to healthcare interpreters, providing professional recognition of their qualification.

The CoreCHI exam is composed of 100 multiple-choice questions revolving around:

  • Managing interpreting encounters
  • Healthcare terminology
  • Interacting with healthcare professionals
  • Preparing for interpreting encounters
  • Cultural responsiveness

While the CHI exam is performance and oral-based in the following modes:

  • Consecutive translation
  • Simultaneous translation
  • Written translation
  • Sight translation

To be eligible, candidates must:

  • Be 18 or older
  • Have a U.S. high school diploma or G.E.D.
  • Have a minimum of 40 hours of healthcare interpreting training
  • Be proficient in English and their chosen language

Learn More About the CCHI Certification

3. Consider a Master's Degree Program

While it is not necessary for entry into the field, earning a master's degree in the individual's chosen language can dramatically increase competitiveness, job security, wages, and opportunities, make it an attractive option to many aspiring interpreters.

Foreign language graduate programs are common at most universities and require passage of the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE) for admission.

Students seeking graduate degree are advised to begin studies for the GRE during the last two years of their undergraduate education.