How do You Become a Medical Interpreter?

A medical interpreter is a valuable asset to both hospitals and to the patients seeking treatment in those facilities. As an interpreter, you must have a strong understanding of both the English language and a second language, and many facilities will not hire interpreters unless they have strong oral and written skills. You will speak with patients to ensure they understand everything the doctor says, and you’ll also speak to doctors on the patient’s behalf. Being fluent in a second language is just one requirement for the job.

Become Fluent in a Second Language

Many of the interpreters working in the medical industry begin working on their foreign language skills in their childhood. If you grow up in a household that speaks Spanish, you’ll have a better job switching back and forth between two languages than someone who didn’t study until their later years. You need to take foreign language courses in both high school and college too. Some interpreters have a familiarity with three or more languages, which makes them more worthwhile to employers. Hospitals may need workers capable of conversing with people from Mexico, Germany, France, China and other countries.

Enroll in College

Before you enroll in college, decide whether you want to complete a basic training program or a more detailed college course of study. College programs last for four years and provide you with a bachelor’s degree when you graduate. You’ll work with fluent speakers and have the chance to improve your accent, which can help you sound like a native speaker. A basic training program may only last for a single year. These programs are best for those who grew up in a foreign language speaking family and those who are more familiar with a second language. The program will focus more on working with patients and helping you understand medical terminology than improving your language skills.

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Study Abroad

Even if you spoke Spanish or another language for years, consider spending a semester or more abroad. Studying abroad is especially important for those who never lived in or visited that nation before. Many countries have slang terms and words that mean two different things. If you don’t know which phrases or terms to use, it may cause some confusion with patients. Studying abroad also lets you immerse yourself in that culture and develop a strong understanding of the people who live there.

Pass the National Certification Exam

Before you can work as a medical interpreter, you also need to pass the national certification exam. According to The National Board of Certifications for Medical Interpreters, you must pay a $35 nonrefundable registration fee and a $175 fee to take the written exam. If you speak a language like Russian, Spanish, Cantonese or Korean, you can register to take the oral exam after passing the written portion. The fee for the oral portion is $275. It takes between 10 and 12 weeks to complete all the steps associated with taking these tests, but once you pass, you receive your interpreter certificate.

Interpreters working in hospitals and other medical facilities cut down on the problems between doctors and patients and help patients feel more comfortable with the help they receive. Going to college, developing strong language skills and passing the national certification exam are some of the steps you must take to become a medical interpreter.