CMI Certification Promotes Patient Safety in Healthcare Interpreting

Woman with headphones sitting in a restaurant studying for her CMI certification

We were at the American Translators Association (ATA)’s 60th annual conference in Palm Springs, California, in October and had the opportunity to attend several presentations by accomplished interpreters. Medical certification and patient safety were a couple of the many topics covered during the four-day convention, and we gained valuable insight about how certified medical interpreters (CMIs) help patients.

The CMI credential is a national medical certification offered by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (National Board). The National Board is a division of the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), which was stablished in 1986, and has set the standards for the medical interpreting industry. Its mission is to “foster improved healthcare outcomes . . . by elevating the standards for and quality of medical interpreting.”

Discussing certified medical interpreters at ATA

During the ATA conference, Ingrid Oseguera, board director at the National Board, spoke about the need for more certified healthcare interpreters. In her presentation titled “Let’s Talk about National Medical Certifications,” Oseguera spoke to a large group of interpreters and translators about her own experience and how certification helps protect patients.

“Training makes a difference,” said Oseguera. CMIs undergo at least 40 hours of medical interpreter training and receive continuing education to maintain certification. Training can reduce errors in interpreting, which helps ensure patients get accurate information, so they can make the best decisions for themselves or their families. “Errors diminish with more training,” she added.

Certification also elevates the profession of healthcare interpreting. Oseguera stated, “We are not just bilinguals — we are professionals in the field.” As someone who used to speak limited English, Oseguera is dedicated to improving the access and quality of healthcare interpreting.

Near the end of her presentation, Oseguera shared a moving story about a loved one involved in a medical emergency. Years earlier when she spoke limited English, Oseguera’s husband was hospitalized following a bad accident, but she was unable understand the doctors and no interpreter was provided. She did not have someone there to explain the situation to her in her language, and consequently, she was unable to make the best decision for her husband at that time.

Now, as a proud interpreter and director of the National Board, Oseguera advocates for medical certification and works with senators in her home state of Utah to improve the certification laws and standards.

CMI certification is a powerful tool

Other experienced professionals shared their knowledge and expertise during the convention, like certified Spanish interpreter Marisa Gillio of Connecticut. Gillio gave a presentation about cultural intelligence and working with patients from different backgrounds. She noted that many patients live within cultural boundaries and training can help interpreters handle complicated situations and better help providers and patients communicate across borders.

“We have a tool that gives us power to protect someone else,” Gillio told attendees about the impact of interpreting.

We spoke to interpreter Naysha Rivera of Georgia about certification via email. Rivera decided to get certified after about seven years of interpreting professionally. Rivera has now been interpreting for 10 years and does face-to-face, OPI, and VRI as a Spanish CMI.

“You have to continue to strive to perfect your skills, expand your vocabulary, and learn the colloquial terms for different regions,” said Rivera about helping patients. She’s working on interpreting for Portuguese as well.

About the National Board’s CMI program

The CMI certification is currently offered in Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and Vietnamese, and the National Board plans to offer certification in more languages as the program expands. Candidates must pass a two-part test that includes both a written and oral section.

If you are dedicated to interpreting or considering certification, Rivera says “Go for it!” The CMI credential promotes patient safety and will support you in your ongoing education and professional development.

For more information and to review the full CMI Candidate Handbook, visit the National Board website. And if you’re interested in becoming an interpreter for CLI, please visit our careers page for information on how to apply!

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