Hospital Interpreter Certification: Career and Salary Facts

Hospital interpreters are a type of certified medical interpreter. Learn about the various languages you could focus on as a hospital interpreter, and find out the requirements for this career field. Review the coursework for certificate programs in medical interpretation. Find out how you can get certified as a hospital interpreter and what your job would be like. Schools offering Applied Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

A certified hospital interpreter is a communicator liaison between non-English speaking patients and hospital staff. Certificate programs help a bilingual person become certified in medical terms and personal interactions. Online and hybrid options for these programs are available. Once certified, interpreters may work in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.

Certification Voluntary certifications are available through the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters and the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters
Salary* $47,190 per year for all interpreters and translators (May 2017)
Job Outlook* 18% job growth (much faster than average) for all interpreters and translators between 2016-2026

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Become a Certified Hospital Interpreter?

Certified hospital interpreters help non-English speakers communicate with doctors, nurses, and administrative staff in a hospital setting. If you want to become a hospital interpreter, you must first be fluent in English and another language, such as the following:

  • Spanish
  • Portuguese
  • French
  • Vietnamese
  • Arabic
  • Swahili
  • Greek
  • Russian
  • Chinese
  • American Sign Language

Once bilingual, you can learn the specifics of the job through a medical interpreting certificate program (also called healthcare interpreting). These programs range in length and type and are offered by community colleges, 4-year colleges, and medical schools. Prerequisites for the programs vary, but most require a high school diploma and proof of bilingual abilities, which may consist of you taking an entrance exam to demonstrate your knowledge of a foreign language.

Certification for medical interpreters can be earned from the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) or the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). To be eligible for either certification, you'll need to complete at least 40 hours of education in medical interpreting and take a certification exam, which is comprised of written and oral sections. Additionally, the NBCMI certification requires one year of work as a medical interpreter. You'll also need to complete continuing education and recertify on a regular basis.

What Will I Learn in a Certificate Program?

A medical translating certificate program typically covers four major areas: medical terminology, healthcare organization functions, language ability, and cultural issues. Instruction may cover topics like these:

  • Ethics in medical interpreting
  • Diseases and medical conditions
  • Healthcare terminology
  • Relating to people from different ethnic backgrounds
  • Interpretation skills in healthcare
  • Effective cross-cultural communication strategies
  • Anatomy and physiology

What Online Options Do I Have?

Only a few totally online undergraduate certificate programs are available; hybrid programs, which include both online and on-campus courses, are more common. Some online programs are designed for those who work as medical interpreters but need formal training to become certified. There are also online graduate certificate programs that you can complete if you have a bachelor's degree. Online programs may require regular attendance in online classes.

What Will My Career Be Like?

As a certified medical interpreter, you can work at hospitals, medical clinics or insurance companies. You could work directly for a hospital, or you could work for a contractor that provides medical interpretation services. Your job will be to interpret both spoken and written medical information between non-English speakers and medical personnel. As a hospital interpreter, you might be called on at any time of the day or night to provide services, sometimes in emergency situations. In instances where your language skills are needed at a non-local hospital, you might be required to provide interpretation services over the phone.

What Is the Job and Salary Outlook?

There is high demand for interpreters of all kinds, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job growth for interpreters and translators in all settings is projected to be 18% between 2016 and 2026, reported the BLS, though growth stats specifically for those in the medical field weren't available. Growth in the field is likely because of the increasingly diverse population of non-native English speakers and because of U.S. law stating that hospitals that receive federal funding must provide interpreters.

The median salary for all types of interpreters and translators was $47,190 as of 2017, per the BLS. Those who worked in hospitals (whether private, state or local) earned a slightly higher average salary of $47,420 in that same year.

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