I oftentimes here the words “certificate” and “certification” used interchangeably when speaking to those wishing to become healthcare interpreters. There are times when I have even heard them used interchangeably amongst bilingual speakers who have not had professional medical interpreter training. This type of error occurs often. First, let’s define the meaning of both terms:
Certification (Medical/Healthcare Interpreter National Certification):
A structured testing process through which a certifying body certifies that you have successfully meet a specified standard, based upon a series of requirements and the successful completion of certification exams. The pre-requisite to receiving one’s National Certification is the receipt of a Certificate of Successful Completion. For the Medical Interpreter, National Certification is, indeed, the brass ring. The credential can be compared to having your Ph.D. in the healthcare interpreting field, a pinnacle of the healthcare interpreting industry.
Certificate (Certificate of Successful Completion): A course of study or training (a minimum of 40 hours) and successful completion thereof after taking an exam on the material covered during said course of study or training. This is a basic course and is required prior to applying for the National Certification exams. (Always ensure that the 40-hour course you are taking is facilitated by a professionally-trained and nationally-certified healthcare interpreter!) The credential can be compared to having your Bachelor’s degree in the healthcare interpreting field. This type of course should never be less than 40 hours and should be the basis of your medical interpreter education. In essence, if you wish to be a professionally-trained and successful healthcare interpreter, this can be your first course, but should never be your last.
Now that we know the differences between the two, this leads us to our next question: From where do I obtain my National Certification? The answer to this question is simple: There are only 2 nationally-certifying bodies for healthcare/medical interpreting in the United States. These organizations are the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (www.cchicertification.org/) and The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (http://www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org/).
Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) offers their CCHI Core Healthcare Interpreter™ credential for all languages through the successful completion of a computerized exam. This is the first CCHI professional certification credential which can be received. The successful candidate will complete a 100-question, computer-based examination, which will be administered in English. It is also commonly referred to as the “written exam.” CCHI also offers the Certified Healthcare Interpreter™ credential for Spanish, Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin). This is the oral exam of the CCHI certification process and upon successful completion of the CHI™ exam, the interpreter will receive their Certified Healthcare Interpreter™ credential. This is the second step in the CCHI credentialing process.
The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI) also offers a “written” (computerized) and oral components of their certification exams. NBCMI offers 3 types of credentials for healthcare interpreters (based upon the availability of an oral exam, similar to CCHI), as follows:
Certified Medical Interpreter (CMI) – Granted after successful completion of both the written and oral exams (currently available for Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Korean); Qualified Medical Interpreter (QMI) ) – Granted after successful completion of both the written and oral exams (currently available for some languages of lesser diffusion); Screened Medical Interpreter (SMI) – Granted after successful completion of the written exam and a review of the candidate’s portfolio (currently available for newly emerging languages in the United States, i.e. indigenous languages).
This leads us to the next series of questions: “How do I know which one is best for me? Which one is “better?” Do I receive one (and if so, which one?) or should I receive both?” Well, let’s explore their similarities: Both certification programs were developed by healthcare interpreters and based on a job/task analysis. Both are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). Both have validation reports that are readily available to the public. Both provide a national, valid, credible and vendor-neutral certification program. This is great news! It’s important to know that one is not “better” than the other, nor does one carry more weight than the other in the healthcare interpreting industry. What is important to know is that both tests are equally vigorous and measure many on the same criteria (on the written exam). However, the CCHI exam is more job-skills based and the NBCMI exam is more terminology-based. This is an important distinction it allows you to make an informed decision about which exam may be best for you. If you have been working in the field for some time, then one exam might be better for you. If you are new to the field, but are currently working, then the other exam might be best for you. Also, let’s not forget the oral exam (if there is one that exists for your target language): although both oral exams are equally vigorous and seek to measure your linguistic acumen, the CCHI oral exam tests the candidate on short written translations, sight translations and simultaneous interpreting, in addition to consecutive and language skills NBCMI measures.
It is important to note that there are some interpreters who choose to pursue either the CCHI credential or the NBCMI credential and there are others that choose to pursue both. All of those scenarios are perfectly fine and acceptable. (I would say that the only wrong scenario is not pursuing your National Certification!)
There is a growing demand for hiring healthcare/medical interpreters who have not only completed a 40-hour class, but who have also received their National Certification. This reduces liability, simplifies an organization’s (hospital, language service provider, etc.) workforce requirements and ensures that said organization is providing the most highly qualified interpreter available. Remember, the interpreter is the non-clinical member of the clinical team! Therefore, if everyone on the LEP’s healthcare team (doctor, nurse, specialist, etc.) are all board-certified, shouldn’t you have a nationally-certified healthcare interpreter? Would you want to hold the equivalent level credential for your profession, as a healthcare interpreter? Furthermore, obtaining your professional training, as well as your national certification will strive to professionalize the field of medical interpreting. Certification benefits not only just that particular interpreter attaining the credentials – but all interpreters attaining the credentials! You deserve to be the very best interpreter you can be and receiving your national certification credential helps you attain this goal!
The next question I usually receive is “how much does it cost?” Payments for both the CCHI and NBCMI processes are essentially the same. Registration and payments are made in the following 3 steps:
Online registration - $35
Written Exam - $175
Oral Exam - $275
It normally takes between 2-3 months from the time you submit your online registration to receive your scores for the oral exam. You receive your scores for the written exam immediately (as the written exam is automated). Please note that you cannot bypass the written exam. If an oral exam is offered in your target language, you cannot receive any credential until you have successfully completed the oral exam.
So, now you are empowered with information! Please do make sure that you visit the NBCMI and CCHI websites to learn more about the certification process, as well as maintaining your certification! Please continue to tune in to our podcast, “Building Healthy Connections” and thank you for reading our blog! We love receiving your questions, so please feel free to send them to us! Also, if there is a topic you would like us to discuss in this forum, let us know! Happy interpreting and until next time!