Are You a Certified Medical Interpreter?

Recently I was scheduling a newly onboarded interpreter for an assignment. In our scheduling system there are options for medical-certified and medical non-certified. Sometimes our work comp clients request that only nationally certified medical interpreters cover certain jobs. So, most of the time, the option chosen is medical non-certified as was what was done in this case. When the interpreter saw that he was scheduled to cover a medical non-certified assignment he pushed back. But I’m a certified interpreter, he texted. Have you taken the written and/or oral exams from one of the two national certification bodies? I replied. If not, you are a qualified medical interpreter. You have earned an entry-level interpreter certificate from an approved training entity and you have proven your proficiency in all your working languages through either diplomas and/or formal testing.

Why does this make a difference?

Us spoken language medical interpreters have been struggling for legitimacy for a long time now. There are certain skills taught in the entry-level certificate classes that are essential in order for an interpreter to consider themselves a professional. Defaulting to the use of first person, positioning during the encounter, employing a pre-session, transparency, and knowing when to be an advocate are some of the skills I learned when I earned a Bridging the Gap 40- hour certificate in 2001. Previously, and I’m sure not unlike many of my fellow untrained interpreters, I was doing my best to facilitate communication, but this was the first time I had been exposed to professional interpreting. It was eye-opening and my interpreting style was dramatically altered for the better.

About 10 years later the first national certification paths opened up for medical interpreters. Several of us jumped on right away since it was another level of legitimacy and a way to distinguish ourselves from the large crowd of interpreters, qualified and otherwise. Still, it is not a requirement to be national certified to take most assignments. Being qualified as a medical interpreter is an acceptable bar to reach for. This is not the same in the Kentucky sign language interpreter world. They all must be nationally certified and hold a license to interpret in the state. Kentucky’s sign language licensure law went into effect July 1, 2003, certainly adding another level of legitimacy to their practice and profession. The general public is mostly unaware of most of this. The words translator and interpreter continue to be used interchangeably although they are two very distinct skill sets and professions. This is one reason why we insist on also being clear on the difference between untrained, trained/qualified, and certified medical interpreters. We still have a way to go on this path of legitimacy. Professionalization is essential. In the absence of requiring certification, it’s also essential to maintain strict definitions of who we are when it comes to professional preparation. If we aren’t clear of these boundaries, we will continue to confuse the public and jeopardize the legitimacy we have fought so hard for.