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Medical Interpreting Certification in the United States: a comparison - by Helen Eby

Competency-based assessments are the foundation of credentialing in many professions, one of which is interpreting. According to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, an assessment instrument is any one of several standardized methods for determining if candidates possess the necessary knowledge and skills related to the purpose of the certification. Professional certification is therefore a voluntary process and is bestowed by an organization granting recognition to an individual who has met certain eligibility requirements and successfully completed a rigorous assessment based on a job task analysis.

Interpreter certification is akin to licensure in many other professions such as psychology, occupational therapy, social work, professional counseling, architecture, or nursing. In the United States, there are three certifying bodies for medical interpreters: NBCMI, CCHI and DSHS/LTC (see chart below). Interpreters will have to choose which certification to pursue based on their working languages, the availability of testing sites, the delivery modality (on-site v. remote interpreting) and the applicable federal and state laws and regulations. In the State of Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority is the government agency responsible for regulating medical interpreters.

Terminology used in the chart below:

Please note that the following chart is a summary, since a complete listing of all details would be beyond the scope of this article. For further details, please go to the website of each certifying body, listed below.


Interpreter certification and skills maintenance as key elements of quality assurance, Natalya Mytareva, Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, June 17, 2015: http://www.cchicertification.org/images/webinars/2015-06-17-cchi_certification-quality_assurance.pdf

Candidate’s Examination Handbook, Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, July 2014: http://www.cchicertification.org/images/pdfs/candidatehandbook.pdf

Certification page, National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters Certification page: http://www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org/getcertified

Certified Medical Interpreter Candidate Handbook, The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, 2014: http://www.certifiedmedicalinterpreters.org//sites/default/files/national-board-candidate-handbook.pdf

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Study materials: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/fsa/language-testing-and-certification-program/study-materials

Law regulating occupations and professions in Oregon: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/volume/15

Law that governs healthcare interpreting in Oregon: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/413.550

Standards for Registry Enrollment, Qualification and Certification of Health Care Interpreters: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/rules/oars_300/oar_333/333_002.html

Health Care Interpreter Program, Office of Equity and Inclusion: http://www.oregon.gov/oha/oei/Pages/HCI-Program.aspx

*Oregon requires 60 hours of healthcare interpreter training and has a list of preapproved training programs.

Affordable Care Act Non-discrimination in Healthcare Programs and Activities: http://ostiweb.org/about/federal-regulations-for-translation-and-interpreting-in-medical-settings/

Enhanced CLAS Standards Blueprint, April 2013, http://blog.gauchatranslations.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/EnhancedCLASStandardsBlueprint.pdf. The Joint Commission follows the CLAS Standards closely, though they are not a regulation.

Sources for overall passing rate:

National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters Examination Summary Statistics: 2009, 2010, and 2011

CCHI 2014 Annual Report: Setting the Standard for Quality in Healthcare Interpreting

Fu, Hungling. State of Washington DSHS Medical Interpreter Certification, presented at UMTIA. June 2007