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?

Specializations vs. special skills: An interpreter’s scope and abilities

Confused (Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360)

Having shared my first essay about settings vs. specializations with an Introduction to Interpreting class, I now realize I wasn’t clear enough the first time I wrote on the topic. One confusing aspect is that I called oral transliteration and tactile interpreting “specializations,” which doesn’t quite jibe with the way the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) defines “specialist” and “generalist” certificates. Let me break it down:

Oral transliteration and the Oral Transliteration Certificate (OTC)

Oral transliteration is what I would call a specialization — or at least I would have called it so last week. Not everyone can mouth clearly for people who read lips (or, more accurately, “speechread”). Certainly not every spoken/signed language interpreter knows how to mouth spoken language and use natural gestures without signing or mouthing the mouth morphemes that go with signs. Nevertheless, now that I have read and thought about “specialization” the last few days, I have to call oral transliteration a “special skill.”

…special skills, specializations, and settings are three different things.

I am coming to understand that “specialization” has more do with focusing one’s scope of practice in certain settings such as educational, medical, performing arts, religious, mental health, or legal interpreting. Yes, oral transliteration for oral deaf people and tactile and close-vision interpreting for Deaf-Blind people are special skills. And, yes, having those skills may lead one into specialized settings such as Deaf-Blind conferences and social events, but it is debatable whether Deaf-Blind interpreting is a “specialization” since one can interpret for Deaf-Blind people anywhere — at the doctor’s office, in a classroom, in a courtroom, at a conference of mostly hearing people, etc. In short, interpreters may “specialize” to work in certain settings, and special skills may lead you or equip you to work in certain settings, but special skills, specialization, and settings are three different things.

The OTC is a “Generalist” certificate

However “special” the skill of oral transliteration is, RID’s OTC is a “generalist” certification. RID’s Generalist Certification pagedefines “generalist” thus:

Generalist certifications recognize professional interpreters who have met or exceeded a nationally recognized standard of minimum competence in interpreting and/or transliterating.

Yet how does a certified oral transliterator to gain entry into legal interpreting? RID goes on to say:

Individual certifications vary in their scope, so it is important to know what each credential means.

So what is the “scope” of the oral transliterator? That page on the RID website does not say. To find out how oral transliterators specialize in legal interpreting, I Googled ‘”oral transliteration” legal interpreting’ and found an Oral Transliteration Certificate (OTC) Examination Information Bulletin that simply says in 1988, RID concurrently worked on developing certification for legal interpreters and (separately) oral transliteration. There is no mention of oral transliteration in legal settings (p. 4). It also mentions that one of the benefits of membership in the Alexander Graham Bell Association (AGB) is Volta Voices, a publication that has medical and legal columns (p. 5). I suppose an oral transliterator could specialize in legal interpreting by studying legal protocol and terminology. Unlike ASL-English (and/or Spanish) interpreters, they don’t have to learn how to talk about law in any language other than English.

Oral Transliterators licensed to do legal interpreting in Arizona

How can an oral transliterator get a license to do legal interpreting in the state of Arizona? (And when I say “legal interpreting,” I don’t mean “lawful interpreting” or “interpreting legally.” I mean interpreting in judicial and law enforcement settings.) I searched the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ACDHH) website for “legal interpreting” and found the Initial General or Legal License Application. The section for legal interpreting shows that someone who holds an OTC can only apply for a Class D license, not a class A, B, or C. That is okay, though, because according to this video on  interpreting licensure (which has both captioning and voiceover) Class D is only for oral transliterators and Deaf interpreters (“relay” or “intermediary” interpreters who work between hearing interpreters and deaf consumers who do not communicate effectively with the hearing interpreter and vice versa). Interestingly, according to the application form, applicants for classes A, B, and C all have to sign an affidavit stating they have worked over 10,000 hours since first becoming certified, while Deaf interpreters and oral transliterators only have to have 25 hours experience of any kind past certification.

The significantly lower requirements for deaf interpreters and oral transliterators in legal settings makes me wonder why legal interpreting requires a specialist certificate of some interpreters but not of all. If it is because of the specialized vocabulary and protocols, then those would apply to deaf and oral interpreters as well. I suppose the difference is a) the rarity of deaf and oral interpreters and b) the softer language barrier between sign varieties for deaf interpreters and diction for oral interpreters than there is for interpreters who have to know how to “interpret” legalese into and from two different languages. Given what can reasonably be expected of special interpreters serving special populations, and given the lack of motivation one might have to specialize in law, I guess it is sort of “sink or swim” for these practitioners. Their incentive to acquire the skills necessary to succeed as legal specialists probably stems from a desire to do good work for others or at least a desire to make it easier on themselves. Luckily, there are law classes people can take, and there are legal interpreting workshops offered by ASL-English-Spanish interpreters that are accessible to both Deaf interpreters and oral transliterators.

Specialization — when does it end?

Why do legal interpreters need a specialist certificate when medical interpreters do not? Is not medical interpreting a specialization? Yes, it is, but RID does not have a specialist certificate for it. Is performing arts interpreting a specialization? Yes, it is, and RID used to award a specialist certificate for it (the SC:PA), but it doesn’t anymore. How about political interpreting? Religious interpreting? Academic interpreting? Mental health interpreting? Sports interpreting? Should all specializations require specialist certificates? Once we start certifying interpreters for specializations, where does it end? So far it has stopped at legal, but there is something on the horizon called the Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) and that, my friends, is “beyond the scope of this article.

Psst! Stay tuned. I’ve already started a draft.

Ever forget an assignment? Make it less likely with automatic agenda emails.

I hate to admit it, but there have been those mortifying times when I’ve forgotten I had a job to get to. It’s easy to follow a schedule when it’s the same every day, but when you’re a community interpreter and your schedule changes every day, you might need a little help.

Lately, some of the agencies I work for have started sending out automatic agenda reminders via email, such as “Here is your schedule for this week” or “Here is your schedule today.” These reminder emails are very helpful — so helpful I was about to ask an agency who doesn’t send them to send them. I rethought that, though, because I had forgotten a job with them that week and I didn’t want it to come across as, “Well, it would help if you sent me a reminder.” So I did some searching and found that I could set up my own email reminders in my Google calendar. Here’s how:

In your Google calendar, go to Settings. Currently the way to do this is to click on the gear icon in the top right corner of the page. When in Settings, click the Calendars tab from the tabs toward the top left of the page (where you see General, Calendars, Mobile Setup, Labs). For your work calendar, look for the Notifications heading just right of the center of the Calendar line (where you see CALENDAR, SHOW IN LIST, NOTIFICATIONS, SHARING). Follow the Notifications link for your work calendar. Scroll to the bottom of the page where it says, “Daily agenda: Receive an email with your agenda every day at 5am in your current time zone.” Check the box next to Email and/or SMS, and you’re done! You will now get your very own agenda reminders at the crack of dawn.

Go forth and serve thy Deaf and hearing consumers!

P.S. I know not everyone uses Gmail or Google Apps, but maybe the calendaring program you use does this too. If not, maybe you should get with a program that does.


Webshop Wednesday – ‘Terps on film: Ethical or entertaining?

This Wednesday, July 25th, from 9a-noon Arizona Time (UTC-7:00), I am excited to open my workshop to participants on a Google+ Hangout. Interpreters on Google+ have asked me when I would be offering a workshop online, and this is the second time I am. This workshop costs $30 USD and offers .3 continuing education units (CEUs) through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Certificate Maintenance Program (RID CMP). CEUs are sponsored by the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (ACDHH). We will webcast from the Desert Valley’s Regional Co-op in Phoenix, Arizona. This workshop will be conducted in English and is designed for interpreters who interpret into or out of spoken English. (more…)