Medical Interpreter: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a medical interpreter. Learn about the job duties, training, employment opportunities and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Medical Interpreter?

A medical interpreter works as a translator between medical staff and patients that may speak little or no English. They need to have a completely bilingual level of fluency in their chosen second language, as well as a strong grasp of medical terminology. Medical interpreters need to be able to communicate effectively and sympathetically with patients, requiring them to have an understanding of medical ethics and standards of confidentiality. They may provide an interpretation service in person, although much of their work can be done remotely, either over the phone or through video relay.

The following table provides more information for this career:

Degree Required Bachelor's degree, vocational certificate program for medical interpreters (recommended)
Education Field of Study Foreign language, translation studies
Key Responsibilities Help medical staff communicate with patients & families
Job Growth (2014-24) 29% (for all interpreters & translators)*
Median Salary (2015) $44,190 (for all interpreters & translators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Medical Interpreter?

As a medical interpreter, you provide translation services in a hospital or healthcare facility. You'll help doctors and medical staff communicate with those who speak little to no English. Another responsibility includes translating medical terms, diagnoses and treatment plans to patients. In order to perform your job well, you'll need to be able to speak and understand both colloquial and medical terminology in English and at least one other language.

What Training Will I Need?

Several different educational paths might prepare you to become a medical interpreter. Many healthcare facilities prefer that you have at least a bachelor's degree with a major either in a foreign language or in translation studies. Many degree programs focus on a particular language, such as a Bachelor of Science in Spanish Translation or a Bachelor of Science in Russian Translation. While enrolled in such a program, you not only gain proficiency in a second language but you also learn the theories of translation, phonetics, diction and culture studies.

You might also consider enrolling in a vocational certificate program specifically designed for aspiring medical interpreters. Such programs cover the basics of medical terminology, human anatomy and physiology, interpreting skills application and cultural nuances.

Where Can I Seek Employment?

If you're interested in working as a medical interpreter, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that you consider an internship working under the guidance of a professional interpreter. You might also think about volunteering your skills at a medical facility in order to build your resume before seeking a full-time job. Some organizations such as the American Translators Association post volunteer experiences for medical interpreters just starting out in the field. The association also offers voluntary certifications for interpreters specializing in several different languages. Additionally, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters offers a Certified Medical Interpreter designation.

What Could I Earn?

The BLS states that the number of interpreters and translators was expected to grow 29% from 2014-2024. Your salary will likely vary by employer, language skills and education. The median yearly salary for interpreters and translators in 2015 was $44,190 according to the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you want to work as an interpreter, there are many fields other than medicine that you will be able to work in. Lots of government and social services require interpreters to translate between service users who speak little to no English and service providers. A few examples are schools, driver registration offices, social services and courts. You may also consider becoming a teacher at the high school level and passing on your linguistic knowledge to young people. These positions generally require you to have a bachelor's degree. Another similar career path is that of a medical transcriptionist, which often requires only a postsecondary certificate. These workers take oral medical records and turn them into written documents, which requires a thorough knowledge of common medical terminology.

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