Qualified interpreters often belong to professional associations or work through language service agencies. For a list of translator and interpreter associations, see NCIHC’s resources page at www.ncihc.org. For language service providers and additional information, see NHelP’s Language Services Resource Guide (2006).
a) How do I know if they’re qualified? An excellent resource on choosing and evaluating a language agency is How to Choose and Use a Language Agency from The California Endowment. Much of the following information derives from that document. There are a number of considerations regarding quality of interpreting when considering a language agency:
· How does the agency recruit interpreters/translators? An agency that does not maintain relationships with immigrant and refugee communities, professional interpreter organizations, and training programs may have difficulty filling an institution’s needs.
· How does the agency screen interpreter candidates? Although it is unrealistic to expect all interpreters to have a college degree, they should be screened for proficiency in the languages they will be interpreting.
· Does the agency require interpreters to have received professional training in interpreting? While few interpreters will have degrees in interpreting, they should have received some form of professional training. The longer the training, the better, though 40 hours is common for basic training programs. Training should cover the interpreter role, ethics, modes, basic conversation skills, handling the flow of the session, intervening, and medical terminology, and should involve skill building and practice.
· Does the agency require any continuing education of its employees/contractors? If so, how much and what sort of proof do the employees/contract interpreters have to offer? Continuing education is important for active interpreters and may be offered by local interpreter associations, colleges, or other organizations.
· How does the agency assess its interpreters’ qualifications? Unlike in the legal interpreting field, true certification programs for medical interpreters are rare. The situation varies by state, language, and company, but certification opportunities and requirements will likely increase over the next few years.
· What code of ethics are the interpreters/translators expected to follow? The National Council on Interpreting in Health Care created a National Code of Ethics for healthcare interpreters. Prior to the NCIHC code, numerous agencies and associations produced their own codes, the most prominent being those of the Massachusetts Medical Interpreters Association and the California Health Interpreters Association. An interpreter who has gone through any formal training should be aware of the principles contained in at least one of these codes of ethics.
b) Do health care professionals make good interpreters? Bilingual staff are often used to interpret, without any assessment of their skills. In a recent study, a total of 840 dual-role staff interpreters were tested for Spanish (75%), Chinese (12%), and Russian (5%) language competence. Two percent did not pass, 21% passed at basic level, 77% passed at medical interpreter level. Staff that passed at the basic level was prone to interpretation errors, including omissions and word confusion. Thus, about 1 in 5 dual-role staff interpreters at a large health care organization had insufficient bilingual skills to serve as interpreters in a medical encounter. Health care organizations that depend on dual-role staff interpreters should consider assessing staff English and second language skills.