Medical Interpreters: Choosing the Right Certification for You


Regulatory changes at local and state levels, as well as publications by Health and Human Services and accrediting agencies are encouraging the documentation and skill verification of interpreters and bilingual personnel. With this increased demand for testing, you may find yourself asking: Which certification is preferred by prospective employers? Which is more difficult? What are the costs?

If you find yourself asking these questions, you should begin by visiting the sites for each of the two nationally recognized organizations that offer certification for medical interpreters: the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). You may find one is a better option for you based on the following considerations.

Is the oral component of the test available for your language pair?

CCHI’s performance exam (CHI) is currently available for Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic interpreters.

NBCMI’s oral exam is currently available for Spanish, Mandarin, Russian, Cantonese, Korean, and Vietnamese interpreters.

Do I meet the prerequisites?

Both national certification exams have the same basic requirements which include a minimum of 40 hours of medical interpreter training, a high school diploma or equivalent level of education, minimum age requirement of 18 years, and language proficiency in both English and the target language.

However, there are minor differences between organizations in process of proving your proficiency in either language that you should consider when selecting the certification that is right for you. Information on the approved methods for establishing your proficiency is available on page 4 NBCMI’s handbook and page 15 CCHI’s handbook.

Is there a testing location near me?

You can find the available testing locations on NBCMI’s website here and CCHI’s website here. Additionally, NBCMI offer a “Test from Home” option.

What is the cost?

Currently both NBCMI’s Certified Medical Interpret (CMI) and CCHI’s Certified Healthcare Interpreter (CHI) exam require the same investment including a $35 registration fee, $175 written exam fee, and $275 oral exam fee for a total investment of $485. CCHI collects the Application Fee and written exam (CoreCHI) fees when the application is submitted, but will refund the written exam fee if the application is not selected.

What competencies will be tested?

The written assessment for each is broken down as follows:

Managing an Interpreting Encounter – 30%
Understanding Healthcare Terminology – 24%
Interacting with Other Healthcare Professionals – 22%
Preparing for an Interpreting Encounter – 19%
Cultural Responsiveness – 5%
Roles of the Medical Interpreter – 8%
Medical Interpreter Ethics – 15%
Cultural Competence – 8%
Medical Terminology in Working Languages – 38%
Medical Specialties in Working Languages – 23%
Interpreter Standards of Practice – 5%
Legislation and Regulations – 3%

Both oral exams will take approximately 60 minutes to complete but are structured quite differently. CCHI’s CHI Examination consists of 4 consecutive bidirectional scenarios, 2 simultaneous interpreting scenarios, 3 sight translation passages, and a multiple-choice translation question. NBCMI’s  oral exam consists of 2 sight translations and 12 consecutive interpreting scenarios.

Ready to take the exam?

NO? If you have not yet begun your preparation, we recommend that you brows our list of on-demand training available.