Certified Medical Interpreter: A title in your future?

Medical interpreting certification: An ASL/English interpreter’s perspective

Medical interpreting is a specialization, or at least it can be. Yet an ASL/English interpreter who interprets in medical settings is not required to hold a specialist certificate. RID doesn’t have one and never did. Recently, though, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), an independent division of the International Medical Interpreters Association, created a certification called Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI). They already certify English/Spanish interpreters , and have tests for several more spoken languages in the works. Asked about certifying American Sign Language / English interpreters, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters FAQ says “The National Board is consulting with the RID to determine how to include ASL interpreters in this process.” According to their website, the NBCMI began developing the CMI certification way back in 1986. They first awarded certificates in late 2009. As of this writing, there are just under 500 CMI’s in the NBCMI registry.

Is it worth it to specialize in medical interpreting? To become a Certified Medical Interpreter?

I think it depends how much medical interpreting work you can get in your market. If you can get a full-time job interpreting in a hospital, then by all means it behooves you specialize. If you can get a fair amount of medical interpreting work, it is wise to specialize not to the point of excluding other kinds of interpreting work, but at least to focus some of your professional development on taking workshops and independent studies in medical interpreting. You could even seek a mentor who is a skilled medical interpreter. At some point, I believe that altruism is a motive to specializing and becoming certified so you can lead by example and raise the bar in the your interpreting community. Teaching workshops on medical interpreting is another great way to bring up interpreters who want to become better medical interpreters, and in researching and lesson planning, you will learn so much more (I know I always learn when I develop my workshops).

Should the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf partner with Certified Medical Interpreters?

I believe so. It wouldn’t be the first time RID gave “certified” status to members who scored admirably on a test developed by another organization. The Boys Town National Research Hospital developed the Educational Interpreters Performance Assessment (EIPA) for ASL/English interpreters in K-12 settings in 1991. In 2006, The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) began granting the “Ed:K-12” certification to interpreters who had scored 4.0 or higher on the EIPA, whose maximum score is 5.0. It took 15 years for RID to accept the EIPA, but it finally happened.

Granted, the EIPA is an “assessment,” not a “certificate.” Still, the fact that RID set a precedent for certifying interpreters who have scored favorably on other organizations tests tells me that they might be willing to grant something like an SC:Med (“Specialized Certificate: Medical”) to those who have a CMI. Then again, even if they don’t, ASL/English interpreters/transliterators could still claim the CMI an extra credential, and add it behind their name like “Daniel Greene, MA, NIC, CMI.” Why not? Even before RID recognized the EIPA, there were RID certified interpreters who took the EIPA with the commitment to specialize in K-12 educational interpreting, lead by example, and increase the level of competence in not just themselves but the interpreting field. Yes, there were interpreters who only had their EIPA score to tout, and there are still interpreters who only have the RID Ed:K-12, but the point is that they specialize, and employers recognize this.

Would a CMI for ASL/English interpreters lead to a break with RID?

I seriously doubt it for several reasons:

  1. There is not enough work for most ASL/English interpreters to make a full-time living solely as medical interpreters. They would have to supplement their income with non-medical interpreting jobs, and for non-medical work they would need a generalist certification.
  2. It would not be in RID’s best interest to exclude medical interpreters from the larger ASL/English interpreting field.
  3. RID has already demonstrated a move toward inclusion with the recognition of EIPA and partnerships with the National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI) and Mano a Mano.

Do you specialize? Would you certify?

I can only speak for my experiences in the San Diego and Phoenix markets. What about where you live? Do you get enough medical interpreting work to specialize to the exclusion of interpreting in other settings? And, even if you couldn’t work solely as a medical interpreter, would you test to become a Certified Medical Interpreter? I would; that’s my position. What’s yours?

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

3 thoughts on “Certified Medical Interpreter: A title in your future?”

  1. Thank you for the information, my goal has always been to specialize in medical interpreting, as I am also studying nursing. It is wonderful to see there are some advancements being made in this area. I look forward to becoming more familiar with the needs of the deaf community and developing my ASL/medical skills.

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