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Language Services April 14, 2023

Searching for Excellence? Follow These Tips to Choose the Right Certified Medical interpreter

In healthcare, language barriers between patients and providers lead to high-stakes interactions every day. From conveying care instructions to making life-and-death treatment decisions, it’s critical that a certified medical interpreter provides timely, accurate interpretation.

With so much on the line, providers want to work with an experienced interpreter they can trust. One that has a strong command of the patient’s language and culture – as well as an in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, which is notoriously difficult to translate.

But when choosing a language services provider, the hard truth is that not all interpreters are created equal. Because even though they offer the same basic service, each brings their own level of individual expertise to the table. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the role interpreter experience plays in improving communication with patients who are limited-English proficient (LEP), deaf, or hard of hearing.

Excellent Interpretation Requires More Than Fluency

At the most basic level, interpretation bridges a communication gap by translating words from one language to another. But language is complex and nuanced. That’s where working with an experienced certified medical interpreter can make a big difference. In addition to interpreting the words being spoken, experienced interpreters should bring with them an understanding of the following:

  • Medical language and culture: When an interpreter is solely focused on serving healthcare organizations, they become familiar with medical terminology in both languages across a variety of specialties. The more an interpreter works with patients and providers, the more they understand the medical culture – from oncology and emergency medicine to orthopedics and podiatry.
  • Cultural differences: Great interpreters are also sensitive to the differences between diverse cultures. This awareness allows interpreters to act as a cultural broker, bridging the gap between both language and worldviews to convey the right meaning.
  • Colloquial language: An experienced interpreter knows that the same word can carry different meanings depending on a patient’s native country. Over time, interpreters gain a deeper knowledge of both culture and language that can help prevent errors caused by misinterpretations.
  • Empathy: Certified medical interpreters are often tasked with interpreting for patients who are scared, confused, and vulnerable. In these difficult situations, an experienced interpreter can establish a sense of trust between the patient and provider. Whether that includes reading a patient’s nonverbal cues or pausing the conversation to provide added clarity, the result is the same: Improved communication and a better patient experience.

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Holding Interpreters to a Higher Standard

While many of these skills play a key role in providing high-quality interpretation services, they also go above and beyond the current industry standards for interpreters. To become a certified medical interpreter in the United States, there are two primary requirements:1

  • Oral language proficiency, demonstrated in both English and the target language for interpretation; and,
  • A minimum of 40 hours of medical interpreter training.

While these standards help ensure that an interpreter is both fluent in the language and familiar with basic medical terminology, 40 hours of medical training only scratches the surface of what an interpreter may need to know to effectively bridge the communication gap between a patient and provider.

To further complicate matters, many interpreters may earn the certified medical interpreter credential, but still offer interpretation services across a wide variety of industries. That means a single interpreter could provide interpretation services for a bank, a cable company, and a hospital system – all in the same day. Serving a broad range of industries in this manner may reduce the per-minute cost of interpretation. But it also sacrifices the in-depth knowledge and unique skillsets honed through dedicated medical interpretation.

AMN Healthcare Language Services believes patients and providers are best served by experienced interpreters that specialize in medical interpretation alone. For that reason, we hold our interpreters to a standard that far exceeds the minimum industry standards.

The interpreter qualifications at AMN Healthcare Language Services include:

  • A minimum of two years of community/medical interpreting experience.
  • Extensive working knowledge of the National Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice (IMIA, CHIA, and NCIHC).
  • For spoken language interpreters, a third-party medical interpreter language proficiency assessment.
  • For sign language interpreters, national certification at or above NAD level 4, RID CSC, RID CDI, CI/CT, NIC, or BEI Advanced.

Benefits of Using an Experienced Certified Medical Interpreter

By only hiring expert interpreters, we can offer a better interpretation experience for patients and providers alike. This results in:

  • Shorter encounters: Experienced medical interpreters often don’t need to ask clarifying questions to providers because they’re already familiar with the terminology being used. This results in faster, more accurate translations and shorter visits, which improve staff and provider efficiency – saving time and money.
  • Improved legal compliance: Offering interpreter services is mandated by law as a civil right for patients who are LEP, deaf, or hard of hearing. If poor interpretation results in a medical mistake or misdiagnosis, hospitals and health systems can become vulnerable to medical lawsuits – some of which may not be covered by malpractice insurance.
  • Better outcomes. When an LEP patient can effectively communicate with their providers, they are more likely to understand how to manage their conditions, take medications and follow up if symptoms return. Studies show that readmission rates are 9.4% higher when an LEP patient does not have access to an interpreter during admission and discharge.2

To learn more about how you can gain access to experience medical interpreters with AMN Language services, visit




  1. Prerequisites.
  2. ‌Lindholm M, Hargraves JL, Ferguson WJ, Reed G. Professional Language Interpretation and Inpatient Length of Stay and Readmission Rates. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2012;27(10):1294-1299. doi:



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