Patient interpreters speak up
Hospital interpreters get credentialed with new certification programs
It wasn’t difficult to figure out which orthopedic examination room Maria Mendoza was in on a recent Wednesday afternoon at Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital. She was inside the one with the red flag outside the door that said “Interpreter.”
Language interpretation for patients with limited English proficiency is considered such an integral part of operations at the safety-net hospital on Chicago’s Near West Side that even orthopedics exam rooms have mounted flags outside to indicate when the interpreter is in.
“It is good. I will go where there are interpreters,” Mendoza says, interpreting for a Spanish-speaking patient in an interview.
“The world is small now, we come from different backgrounds and different languages. We need interpreters,” says the patient’s orthopedic surgeon, Nishitkumar Patel. “It is an indispensable part of delivering healthcare for Mount Sinai.”
Yet Mendoza, like the vast majority of medical interpreters in the U.S., does not possess a nationally recognized credential in her profession. That’s because until just a year ago, no national certification was offered by any group, despite more than 25 years of effort to offer one in the field.
Today, two separate Washington-based organizations are beginning what insiders say will be a long process of offering national credentials and then upgrading the expectations for medical interpreters across the country.
The quicker of the two groups to offer a medical interpretation credential, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, has granted more than 80 for certified medical interpreters. Meanwhile, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters began offering testing through a pilot program in October, with plans to accept its next class of prospective nationally certified interpreters in January.
Mendoza’s manager, Noemi Carrillo— director of the interpreter service at Mount Sinai—says she’s anxious to start the process of getting her staff of 14 full-time and 11 part- time interpreters fully credentialed.
Currently, the only options available are those that have long existed, such as certificate programs at colleges and universities. Graduates of those programs may then also be subject to varying levels of state-based certification efforts. Experts say the intensity of the training and the thoroughness of the statebased certifications vary widely between organizations, prompting the need for national standardization.
“It’s way, way past due. We interpreters have been waiting for the longest time for something like this,” says Edgardo Garcia, director of Language Access Services at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, where human resources officials recently agreed to pay expenses for its staff interpreters who take and pass the exam offered by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters.
The staff of 25 full-time and 22 part-time interpreters handled 160,000 patient encounters in 2009 between the hospital’s
Orthopedic surgeon Nishitkumar Patel works with interpreter Maria Mendoza while seeing a patient at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. Patel says interpreters are “indispensable” at the hospital.