innerbody

How to Become a Hospital Interpreter

What Does a Hospital Interpreter Do?

interpreter using sign language

Hospital interpreters use their skills in English and a foreign language to provide invaluable services to patients and medical practitioners alike. The ability for patients and healthcare professionals to communicate is fundamentally important to the safety and comfort of the patient during care, yet over 24 million Americans do not speak enough English to communicate effectively with their healthcare provider. Professional interpreters bridge this gap to ensure that patients receive accurate diagnoses and appropriate treatment.

Interpreters assist during each step of the healthcare process: admission, examination, consultation, procedures and many other provider-patient interactions. They enable direct communication between the provider and patient by interpreting each expressed concept thoroughly and accurately in the language of the listener. Interpreters usually remain in the background, but may tactfully interject into the conversation to clarify information, correct misunderstandings or respond to a patient’s discomfort. Interpreters actively advocate for both the patient and the healthcare provider.

Interpreters also help providers to develop a better understanding of a patient’s cultural background and how it may influence essential healthcare decisions. The efforts of hospital interpreters ensure that underserved patients have equal access to healthcare regardless of language, background or immigration status. In fact, federal law requires hospitals that receive Medicare, Medicaid and other government funds to provide interpretation services free of charge. Research shows that the use of trained interpreters (instead of family members or bilingual staff) results in more accurate interpretation for patients, thereby increasing overall satisfaction with their care.

Serving as a hospital interpreter is an enormous responsibility and is also extremely rewarding. Read on to learn more about this important career.

Workplace Details

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 23 percent of interpreters and translators are self-employed. These individuals are usually well established in the field and work for several facilities on a freelance basis.

The majority of hospital interpreters are employed by hospitals or interpretation agencies. Interpreters work in a wide variety of settings from operating rooms to financial services departments. They often travel to attend appointments at physician offices and patients’ homes. In some cases, they interpret by telephone or via video conferencing.

Interpreters work in a variety of medical facilities, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • Surgical centers
  • Physician offices and group practices
  • Dental offices
  • Home health care agencies
  • Mental health facilities
  • Imaging centers

Most medical interpreters work full time during regular business hours. Staff interpreters may be on-call some evenings and weekends. Self-employed interpreters work highly variable hours and can be called in at any time.

In addition to oral interpretation, hospital interpreters perform some paper work, including translation of written documents and documentation. They also follow up with patients to see if they have questions or need additional assistance.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$55000
Texas
$50670
Florida
$42170
New York
$55180
Virginia
$74130

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$46,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$36,720$45,610$57,540

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$51,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$23,710$41,980$63,120

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$43,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $91,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 50%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$18,960$43,630$94,260
Tuscon$31,640$43,650$84,850

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$31,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$20,960$33,310$49,390

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$44,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 490

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$20,620$49,680$72,770
San Francisco Bay$25,690$57,630$79,940
San Diego$31,550$48,940$78,990
Sacramento$32,560$52,350$71,460

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$52,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $88,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 68%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$40,080$63,390$95,060
Colorado Springs$33,630$44,790$69,390

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$51,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$40,180$56,390$77,030

DELAWARE

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$85,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $46,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$35,030$69,020$127,800

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$33,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$18,600$32,310$86,640
Orlando$21,780$37,690$66,570
Tampa$32,420$52,570$78,420
Jacksonville$18,760$36,470$60,040

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$46,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$22,210$44,160$81,730

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$44,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$26,950$44,050$69,730

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$35,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $47,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$21,870$34,810$47,450

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$40,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$29,360$40,120$60,450
Rockford$20,910$33,220$46,650

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$39,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$31,810$43,130$70,690
South Bend$26,000$43,360$60,420
Fort Wayne$32,930$45,370$66,900

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$35,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$23,530$38,000$48,920

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$30,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 38%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$26,330$39,620$60,300
Kansas City$23,590$39,140$69,700

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$47,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$28,820$41,290$70,050
Lexington$37,670$46,530$65,960

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$39,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 41%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$45,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$40,480$46,190$59,280

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$57,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $102,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 55%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$31,360$52,690$131,490
Frederick$41,160$70,720$101,450

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$55,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $92,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$43,500$61,510$95,360
Worcester$33,380$46,290$75,510
Springfield$32,490$37,500$49,870

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$21,290$41,170$62,710
Grand Rapids$32,230$46,800$71,270

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$46,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$24,100$48,030$63,380
Rochester$32,020$47,990$64,480

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$30,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Gulfport$25,610$29,880$38,330

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$45,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$25,330$44,050$73,070
Kansas City$23,590$39,140$69,700

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$32,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $49,600

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$38,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $55,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$26,480$37,750$73,390
Lincoln$27,870$43,140$49,350

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$45,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $18,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$17,670$43,680$81,350
Reno$37,450$48,230$67,350

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$44,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$28,540$45,660$73,710
Nashua$34,480$54,010$69,670

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$64,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Trenton$40,390$48,990$144,830

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$41,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$31,600$38,100$55,540

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$48,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$19,170$55,790$84,500
Buffalo$25,050$29,010$59,380
Rochester$30,450$40,800$69,610
Albany$28,980$45,130$62,050

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$36,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $136,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$28,250$39,400$72,660
Raleigh$27,250$50,130$80,770
Greensboro$25,580$31,070$44,570
Winston - Salem$23,000$29,660$39,120

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$33,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,900

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$27,890$35,780$70,700

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$41,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$28,960$39,060$53,700
Columbus$24,790$45,730$73,460
Cincinnati$28,280$45,490$59,200
Dayton$21,210$38,190$58,770

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$31,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $48,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$22,910$31,120$45,510
Tulsa$18,210$32,150$47,770

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$40,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$31,900$40,620$54,200
Salem$24,500$41,440$67,160

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$45,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$27,100$51,230$105,880
Pittsburgh$26,860$45,560$77,600
Allentown$25,510$30,660$50,240

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$45,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$33,880$44,310$56,990

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$36,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$17,920$37,400$48,610
Columbia$25,850$35,950$63,020
Charleston$31,880$41,520$50,130

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$36,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$27,480$36,510$59,420

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$34,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 45%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$21,370$33,630$47,360
Memphis$25,880$44,530$60,510
Knoxville$27,090$43,980$68,260
Chattanooga$21,090$29,170$87,510

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$49,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 43%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$25,440$37,800$60,830
Houston$34,620$56,270$84,310
San Antonio$28,210$52,610$86,580
Austin$30,820$58,100$93,790

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$39,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 55%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$24,360$37,830$69,470
Ogden$32,820$45,040$105,940

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$38,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$62,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$39,930$65,730$111,210
Richmond$27,630$54,730$92,590

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$40,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$19,700$39,740$58,190

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$26,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $46,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$45,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$27,930$50,300$72,440
Madison$34,610$45,660$71,820

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the annual median salary for interpreters employed in general medical and surgical hospitals is $47,640. The lowest-paid 10% of interpreters and translators earn less than $22,240, while the highest-paid 10% earn more than $80,650. Earnings generally increase with experience, skill, certification and education. Pay also varies by language – those whose working language is in high demand in their area generally earn more.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth for interpreters and translators is expected to increase by 46% between 2012 and 2022, which is considered much faster than average for all occupations. This increase is due in part to diversification - America’s immigrant population grew 140 percent between 1980 and 2010. It continues to rise. Recent focus on hospital safety has also fueled demand for qualified interpreters. Demand is highest for certified, experienced interpreters with a four-year degree and a proven track record of success.

Hospital interpreter jobs are posted on the websites of hospitals, health systems and other healthcare providers. The websites of NCIHC and IMIA also list hospital interpreter jobs.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$55790 Per Year

$26.82 Per Hour

Washington DC Median Pay

$69020 Per Year

$33.18 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Hospital Interpreter

1

Become fluent in a second language.

The overriding qualification to become a hospital interpreter is fluency in both English and a foreign language. Prospective interpreters gain their skills in a variety of ways, including growing up in a household where two or more languages are spoken; studying a foreign language in school; and spending time abroad.

2

Earn a bachelor's, and possibly a master's degree.

While there are no set education requirements for hospital interpreters, most employers prefer a four-year degree. Registry for Interpreters of the Deaf (RID) requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience for certification as an interpreter of American Sign Language (ASL). Sixty percent of the interpreters employed by the Stanford University health system have master’s degrees.

Show Me Schools »

While proficiency is crucial, it’s not necessary for aspiring hospital interpreters to major in a language. However, classes in the life sciences, medical terminology and cross-cultural communication are beneficial. If you’re pursuing a career as an ASL interpreter, you should obtain a bachelor’s or even a graduate degree in the field. RID maintains a searchable directory of educational programs on its website.

3

Gain job training.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, hospital interpreters benefit from job-specific training. A respected program for foreign language interpreters is Bridging the Gap, a 40-hour introductory course offered around the country by The Cross Cultural Health Care Program. Training courses are also available through community colleges, universities, career centers, minority health agencies and professional organizations. The International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) maintains a searchable directory of training programs on its website.

4

Work with a mentor.

Interpretation is a complex skill that requires many years to master. For this reason, many hospital interpreters choose to work with a mentor during the first few years of their careers. IMIA currently offers a mentorship program to members who have completed a 40-hour training course and have one year of relevant work experience. The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) also launched a mentorship program in 2012. ASL interpreters will soon be able to connect with potential mentors through the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers.

5

Work an internship or volunteer.

Many hospital interpreters complete an internship or volunteer work before seeking paid employment. This allows them to gain additional experience, sharpen their skills and make professional contacts. Many training programs include an internship component. Local professional organizations are also a great resource for locating these opportunities.

6

Become certified.

Interpreting skills are extremely difficult for potential employers to assess, due to the language barriers involved. Demand from both the healthcare industry and professional organizations resulted in the creation of the first national certifications for hospital interpreters during the first decade of the 21st century. While certification is voluntary, it is strongly desired by employers and well worth pursuing, especially if it is available in your working language.

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (a division of IMIA) offers a Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) credential for English-Spanish interpreters. Candidates must pass a written exam in English and an oral exam in English and Spanish. They must also meet the following prerequisites:

  • Age 18 or older
  • Completion of a training program totaling at least 40 hours
  • One year of work experience as a medical interpreter
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Demonstrated proficiency in both English and a foreign language

The National Board recently added credentials for interpreters of Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. Check the website for the latest updates.

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) offers two levels of certification. The Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) credential requires candidates to pass both written and oral/practical exams; this credential is currently available to interpreters of Spanish, Arabic and Mandarin. Interpreters of other languages earn the Associate Healthcare Interpreter (AHI) credential by passing the written exam only. Prerequisites are the same as for the CMI.

ASL interpreters can pursue National Associate of the Deaf (NAD) through RID. Candidates must be at least 18 years of age and have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent work experience. To become certified, they must pass a written knowledge exam, practical exam and oral interview.

In addition to these national programs, a few states offer voluntary certification programs for hospital interpreters. For more information, contact your state’s health department or your local IMIA chapter.

7

Consider opportunities for advancement.

Experienced hospital interpreters often advance to serve as department managers or directors of interpreting. Others start their own interpreting services or leave the clinical setting to train others. Interpreters of ASL enjoy the option of becoming tenured professors in their field.

Certified interpreters with demonstrated skill and experience generally have the greatest opportunity for advancement. A graduate degree is desirable if you wish to teach. Further business education will be to your benefit you’re looking to become a solo practitioner.

Explore Educational Paths

The mandatory qualification for becoming a hospital interpreter, also known as a medical interpreter, is fluency in English along with another language. Most interpreters grow up in a household with a second language, live abroad, or gain fluency studying the language in school.

Some employers hire interpreters with a high school diploma or equivalent and train them on the job. Candidates must generally pass the employer’s language proficiency exam. Some states have additional testing requirements.

New hires then train on the job under the supervision of an experienced interpreter.

MEDICAL INTERPRETER TRAINING

Varies, but at least 40 hours

This pathway provides a useful knowledge base for those new to interpreting or the healthcare field. For foreign language interpreters, it also provides a pathway to national certification.

The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) recommends that all foreign language hospital interpreters undergo at least 40 hours of formal training in the field. This is the minimum certification requirement for both the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). (The rules are different for American Sign Language interpreters, as we’ll see in a minute.)

Interpreter training programs are available at community and technical colleges, continuing education departments, extension offices, and through private companies and non-profits. Both CCHI and the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA) list training programs on their websites. IMIA also accredits a small number of training programs that meet rigorous quality standards.

Hospital interpreter training typically includes:

Translation skills

Covers summarization, conveying complex information, and dealing with omissions.

Modes of interpretation

Gain proficiency in sight, simultaneous, or consecutive interpretation.

Medical terminology

Build the basic vocabulary you need to communicate with healthcare professionals and patients.

Ethics

Learn about the laws, regulations, and standards of practice governing interpretation in healthcare settings as well as potential ethical issues that can arise.

Cross-cultural issues

Explore how diverse beliefs about folk remedies, domestic violence, mental health, and sexuality influence patients’ health behavior.

Medical specialties

Introduces the terminology, diagnostic tests, medications, and treatments used in a particular area of medicine. Examples include cardiology, oncology, and psychiatry.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Many employers now require hospital interpreters to complete some post-secondary education – most commonly a bachelor’s degree.

In many cases, a bachelor’s degree is required in order to become certified as an American Sign Language interpreter by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). However, RID does offer an alternative certification pathway for experienced interpreters who trained on the job.

Employers and credentialing organizations that require a bachelor’s degree generally accept candidates from all fields of study. Useful majors and minors include language interpretation and translation, foreign language, American Sign Language interpretation, and life sciences such as biology or physiology.

Show Me Schools »

Future interpreters can take advantage of the following in college:

Advanced grammar and composition

Enhance your proficiency in both spoken and written communications.

Cultural studies

Learn more about the beliefs, values, traditions, and history of your potential patients.

Practicum and internship

Gain real world experience in interpreting under the supervision of an experienced professional.

Keys to Success as a Hospital Interpreter

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Bilingual

Oral and written fluency in both English and a foreign language are absolute requirements for hospital interpreters.

Culturally aware

Aspiring interpreters should also have in-depth knowledge of the culture of their prospective patients.

Good at communicating

Interpreters rely on strong interpersonal and self-management skills in order to facilitate communication while remaining impartial and objective.

Quick thinking

These professionals must be adept at thinking on their feet and have excellent short-term memory.

Professional and ethical

Finally, hospital interpreters must demonstrate strong commitment to professionalism and ethics, especially in the area of patient confidentiality.

Additional Credentials

Neither CCHI, NBCMI, nor RID currently offer advanced certifications. However, nationally certified interpreters must fulfill continuing education requirements. Many focus on a particular medical specialty, interpretation mode, or an issue such as domestic violence or end-of-life care.

Mohammed Alobaidy

Mohammed Alobaidy worked as an interpreter and translator with the United States Army in Baghdad between the years of 2003 and 2009. In 2013 he was employed as a medical interpreter for Language Access Metro Project (LAMP) in the Saint Louis, Missouri area. He has also provided ongoing voluntary Arabic and English language classes and tutoring since 2012. Mohammed Alobaidy is a graduate of the College of Medical and Health Technology in Baghdad, Iraq.

x