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Medical Interpreter: Job Description and Education Requirements

Oct 20, 2021

Medical interpreters help non-English speakers communicate with caregivers in a variety of medical facilities. Fluency in at least two languages is the central requirement for this field, and many interpreters complete formal post-secondary education as well. Read on for an in-depth look at the medical interpreter definition, duties, salary, and more.

Medical interpreter jobs are centered around helping patients and health care workers to communicate.

What Is a Medical Interpreter?

What does a medical interpreter do? The medical or hospital interpreter job description includes providing language services to non-English-speaking patients and helping them communicate with doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They might be employed by medical facilities or interpreter agencies, or they might choose to operate their own businesses. A high level of communication skills in both English and a foreign language is integral to the medical translator job description. Earning a bachelor's degree in interpretation or a specific foreign language is common for aspiring interpreters, though certificate programs in medical interpretation are also available.

Required Education Bachelor's degree is typical; certificate programs are available
Other Requirements Language skills, knowledge of medical terminology
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) 20% (for all interpreters and translators)*
Median Salary (2019) $51,830 annually (for all interpreters and translators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical Interpreter Job Description

Medical interpreter jobs involve working with non-English speaking patients in hospitals, physician's offices, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, and mental health clinics. They act as conduits between patients and medical professionals by listening to the professional and orally translating information into a patient's native language in layman's terms. The medical interpreter then translates the patient's response back to the professional, using proper medical terminology. Interpreters may translate such information as the reason for a medical visit, past medical history, and family medical history. Other medical interpreter duties may include explaining medical and surgical procedures, giving medical care instructions, providing drug information, and scheduling follow-up appointments.

During the visit, cultural misunderstandings between a professional and patient may occur. The hospital translator job description requires a sensitivity to cultural differences and the know-how required to avoid them. Interpreters also are privy to sensitive information, so they must maintain patient confidentiality at all times.

Here are a few other important skills and traits to have if you want to fit the ideal medical interpreter description:

  • Patience and compassion
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • A competent telephone manner

Medical Interpreter Education Requirements

Entry-level training for a medical interpreter career usually begins in high school, where students are encouraged to take English, foreign language, and biology classes. Some high schools offer cultural programs that allow students to study abroad, learning about a country's history, customs, cultural practices, and language, which are all very beneficial, as medical interpreter requirements usually include an understanding of cultural as well as linguistic differences.

After high school, aspiring medical interpreters might choose to enroll in a 1-year medical interpreter certificate program at a community college. Topics of study are likely to include medical terminology, medical ethics, interpreting fundamentals, and intercultural communication.

Another option is to earn a 4-year bachelor's degree at a college or university. Would-be medical interpreters might choose to complete a foreign language studies program that covers a number of languages or major in one particular language, such as Spanish or French. Additionally, some institutions offer singular foreign language programs with a concentration in interpreting studies, which allow students to take introductory and advanced foreign language courses in conjunction with specialized classes in medical interpretation. Students interested in operating their own medical interpreter agencies also might benefit from courses in small business administration, bookkeeping, computer applications, marketing, and advertising.

Medical Interpreter Salary and Job Outlook

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the broader occupation category of interpreters and translators, which includes medical interpreters, was projected to increase by 20% during the 2019-2029 decade. This means that the translator career outlook is better than average. The BLS reported in May 2019 that the median annual salary for interpreters and translators was $51,830.

A bachelor's degree or a certificate is typically required for medical interpreters. These professionals must be able to communicate in two languages and be familiar with medical terminology. The general job outlook for all interpreters and translators is excellent, with good opportunities for professionals focusing on healthcare.

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