Recruiting a Qualified Medical Interpreter

As we advertise to recruit qualified medical interpreters, the question we commonly ask is, “Are you bilingual?” Well, this is a start to know if someone speaks another language fluently. However, is this enough to recruit and send someone on a medical appointment? The answer is a resounding “NO!”

As Interpreter Operations Manager of Affordable Language Services, I need to make sure that part of our process is to separate those who are simply bilingual from those who are really qualified to interpret in the medical field. Once a bilingual/multilingual applicant applies to our agency, our recruiters do a thorough interview process to measure an applicant’s English skills and knowledge of the language they want to interpret. Again: just being fluent in a language does not mean that you are qualified to become an interpreter. There are certain skills an interpreter needs to embody or develop before even going to a medical appointment. Another question we ask each applicant is, “Given a medical situation like a surgery, will you be comfortable and competent to interpret on the language you are applying for?” This question screens applicants’ competency and knowledge of advanced medical terminology in BOTH of their languages.

After the interview, each applicant is given medical terminology to review and undergoes a third-party medical language evaluation. The medical language evaluation will measure the applicant’s speed, accuracy, knowledge of medical terminology, and readiness to interpret. This is where the rubber meets the road. The great majority of bilingual applicants who do not prepare for this evaluation will fail. The issue may not be that the applicant is not fluent, but rather accuracy and knowledge of medical terminology, or a memory which is not as sharp as what’s required of an interpreter.

Applicants should understand that interpreting is not just repeating what the provider says to the patient or the other way around, but rather conveying an accurate message to both parties with acceptable speed to help enhance the health & well-being of the global community.

Once an applicant passes the third-party medical language evaluation, he or she should complete any additional requirements the local hospitals have.

Passing the evaluation and completing all the requirements is just one step of being a medical interpreter. An interpreter should always seek ways to improve his or her skills and mastery of terminology and culture. Affordable Language Services offers a shadowing-mentoring program for interpreters as part of our ongoing pursuit of excellence. Aside from that, we also offer monthly free or minimal-cost continuing education in order to help equip not just our interpreters but all medical interpreters to handle the different medical terminology and overcome different challenges in medical appointments. We feel that this training is a very important part of taking the best possible care of our patients and families, which is what we are all about.

A 40-hour medical interpreting course, such as Bridging the Gap, is highly encouraged for all medical interpreters. For some languages such as Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Arabic, a 40-hour medical interpreting course is a requirement within 1 year of being recruited to be compliant with the Greater Cincinnati Health Council (GCHC). The 40-hour medical interpreting course is also a pre-requisite for both national medical interpreter certifications, CMI and CHI.

Overall, there may be a misunderstanding that a medical interpreter simply repeats a word or phrase without knowing about all the preparation, evaluation and continuous education that interpreters partake in to be successful in their careers. In a mission to enhance the health and well-being of the global community, medical interpreters makes a difference in our daily lives, making sure that each message being conveyed is accurate.

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