How to Become a Medical Interpreter

Medical Interpreters (MI) act as both translator and interpreter. When there are patients with limited English skills, MIs will assist both the physicians as well as the patients. MIs are present with such patients during their examination by the physician. MIs help the doctor by obtaining medical histories and previous medical procedures undergone from the patient. They help patients in explaining the medical terms from the doctor and nurses and to communicate with the health care professionals regarding the patient's condition.

Since all cities are becoming multi-lingual and even more diverse, the demand for MIs is increasing. On the flip side, the amount of trained professional MIs is very limited. According to Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS), the need for MIs is going to rise by 24% until 2016. MIs are valuable to the hospital as their patient circle can be widened and they can also avoid risks involved in the treatment of patients with limited English speaking ability.

So, if you know at least two languages, and feel content to work in a hospital environment, then becoming a MI could be the right choice for you.


The MI's certificate is very important for this position. First, become a member of a professional organization. The International Medical Informants Association (IMIA) has around 40 -70 certificate programs being run through various contact study centers throughout the country. They also provide online courses. Generally such programs test students rigorously and issue the certificates only to those who are really competent enough to work as a MI. Certain public health schools also conduct medical interpretation courses or recommend interested students to a medical interpretation training organization. Medical assistants can obtain certification as MIs and perform a dual role in the medical field-if they are at least bilingual.

Important Steps

After your high school diploma or preferably college degree, seek training for medical interpretation through courses offered by educational institutions such as: The University of Georgia, New York City University and so on.

  • Proficiency in a foreign language is must so that you could interpret and explain the medical terminology in the foreign language.
  • Become a certified MI by passing exams fostered by the IMIA to help you become cognizant regarding medical vernacular.
  • Apply to hospitals, medical centers or start on your own privately.
  • Feel comfortable discussing sensitive or personal issues corresponding with the patients.
  • Be quick enough to accurately interpret the complicated issues, ideas and concepts during the physical examination of the patients.
  • Should also highlight specific medical history instances of the patient to the physician during the diagnosis or inquiry session.
  • Your service is generally charged per hour, so if you work as a full-time MI, your annual average income could be around $34,000 per year.

Usually, MIs work in hospitals, medical centers, clinics in urban areas with a multilingual patient base. Sometimes they can also work in an unorthodox setting like a conference, courtroom, or wherever an MI is needed. Being able to communicate is absolutely pivotal, especially when someone's health is at stake.