Over the past year, the pandemic created big challenges for the healthcare industry as most medical encounters shifted to remote visits in order to keep people safe. Medical interpreters had to adapt quickly and stepped up to ensure that patients continued receiving important care in their own language.
With the recent national focus on language access in healthcare, we wanted to look at the need for more certified medical interpreters, as well as one interpreter’s experience getting certified this year.
The need for certified medical interpreters continues
The pandemic magnified inequities in our national healthcare system, and a recent report put those shortcomings into perspective. It found that language barriers negatively affect about 25 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. These patients made fewer visits to the hospital, received fewer prescription medications, and went to the ER less than other Americans.
Trained interpreters are more crucial than ever, because certified medical interpreters can improve health outcomes for limited English proficient (LEP) patients. However, sometimes certified interpreters are few and far between.
In California, for example, only about 1,400 interpreters are certified through the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI), one of the national medical interpreter certification organizations. This is a staggeringly low number, considering that nearly 20% of Californians are considered LEP. The state defines LEP as individuals who speak English “less than very well.”
The good news is that certification is still accessible for interpreters, even during the pandemic. Information is readily available for anyone thinking about certification, and testing guidelines make it safe and easy for applicants to take the exams.
Where do I start?
Medical interpreter certification can improve accuracy, increase patient and provider satisfaction, and even lead to more career opportunities for interpreters.
So, where do I start? That’s what North Carolina–based Spanish interpreter Rocio thought to herself when she first considered getting certified.
Rocio earned her certification through CCHI in January 2021, amid the global pandemic. She focuses primarily on remote interpreting and currently contracts with CLI, so we caught up with her to find out what her certification experience was like.
According to Rocio, interpreter certification “builds up your interpreting skills but also can make you a more professional person overall.” The organization’s goal is to “enhance the profession of healthcare interpreting in the U.S.,” so CCHI certification is an excellent option for medical interpreters who work in any setting, including face-to-face, over-the-phone, or video remote interpreting.
Rocio said that preparation for the exam is important. She studied a lot on her own but also recommended studying in a group so you can bounce ideas off each other. “It’s helpful and gives you different viewpoints.”
Safe and accessible certification
The written part of the exam is currently offered either online or in person at a testing center. And according to the CCHI website, their testing centers are open and have mandatory mask policies at all locations. CCHI encourages applicants to review the Candidate’s Examination Handbook before applying or taking the exams.
Overall, Rocio found the experience to be professional and accessible. Certification can improve an interpreter’s skill and knowledge, and is a testament to their dedication to interpreting. “You never want to be stagnant,” Rocio added.
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