How can I start my career as a freelance healthcare interpreter?

My career path to becoming a healthcare interpreter was by no means straightforward. At that time, there was no established path; it seemed almost as if those who were working as professional healthcare interpreters had started their careers by accident. In a way, I also became a healthcare interpreter by accident. In spite of the various local and national interpreter organizations and the availability of national certification for healthcare interpreters, the path has been largely undefined…Until now!

The CATIE Center at St. Catherine University developed a Healthcare Interpreting Career Lattice (pictured below) for American Sign Language interpreters that all interpreters of signed and spoken languages can use as guidance in becoming a healthcare interpreter.

CATIE Center at St. Catherine University. (2015). Healthcare Interpreting Career Lattice. In Interpreting in Healthcare  Settings. Retrieved from http://healthcareinterpreting.org/lattice/

The Using the Healthcare Interpreting Career Lattice document is a supplementary step by step checklist (the link will take you to a PDF-Download) that will guide you through the career lattice and set you on your path to becoming a healthcare interpreter, depending on your entry-point.

This post will help you with the very beginning stages of a career in healthcare interpreting!

Let’s get started.

Prerequisites to Becoming a Healthcare Interpreter

Beyond your language abilities, ideally, you have:

  • community (non-healthcare) interpreting experience,
  • a college degree (though in some instances a high school diploma or equivalent is sufficient),
  • liability insurance,
  • up-to-date inoculation and records,
  • Background & security checks.

We’ll elaborate a little on two of those prerequisites and add a note on workshops and training!

Inoculations

Each hospital or healthcare system will have their own requirements. One way to identify the required inoculations is to contact the Human Resources Department for the healthcare system or Language Service Provider you wish to work with.

Remember:

  • Some of the inoculations I have been asked to maintain as a healthcare interpreter include yearly flu shots and TB tests, as well as a current MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) that you may have received as a child.
  • Flu shots are administered seasonally and are not available certain times of the year, therefore it is important to plan ahead.
  • If you are allergic to any inoculation, make sure to keep written documentation of your allergy.

Liability Insurance

Liability insurance is required for freelance interpreters and translators. At a minimum, your plan should provide coverage for interpretation errors and associated legal fees.

  • You can find potential insurance providers with a simple google search.
  • I recommend that you request quotes from several liability insurance providers and compare their plans before making a decision.
  • You should expect your premium to be about $400 a year.

*Special note on workshops:

It is imperative that at a minimum you attend a workshop on ethics and standards of practice specific to healthcare, as well as complete the recommended introductory course work, including HIPAA training, which is required for all who work in a healthcare facility.

Tips for Spoken Language Interpreters

If you are a spoken language interpreter, all of the requirements listed will still apply, with minor modifications to the certification requirement. The Certifications listed in the checklist are generalist certifications for ASL interpreters and serve as a means to ensure that candidates have the necessary command of both languages and are familiar with proper interpreting techniques. You may need to demonstrate your language proficiency in your language pair, depending on the employer.

Final thoughts

The Career Lattice serves as a wonderful starting place for those new to our profession. I fully support the recommendation to “complete all pre-requisites before accepting assignments” in the healthcare setting.

If you follow the prerequisite recommendations of the Using the Healthcare Interpreting Career Lattice guide, you will be prepared for your first healthcare interpreting assignment.

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