National Medical Interpreter Certification was a hot topic at the  2009 ATA Conference. BY LINDA JOYCE

The National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters was very pleased to participate in the  ATA 50th Annual Conference, held in New York City on October 28-31, 2009 and to introduce conference attendees to the nation’s first National Medical Interpreter Certification.

Interest was extremely high from the over 2,300 attendees representing dozens of countries. Members of The National Board and their supporters offered attendees information about the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters process, and the activities around the certification effort. There was a constant flow of people to the International Medical Interpreters Associatioin (IMIA) table with a keen interest in what the National Board had to offer. Interpreters, interpreter trainers, providers and many others stopped by, inquiring about the certification process, how the process works, and how to register.

Certification for medical interpreters is a hot topic so discussions continued throughout the conference. Attendees noted that they had attended conferences held by IMIA, the Tennessee Association of Professional Interpreters and Translators (TAPIT), the California Healthcare Interpreting Association (CHIA), the Texas Association of Healthcare Interpreters and Translators (TAHIT), the Nebraska Association for Translators and Interpreters (NATI), and others where they had already heard about the launch of national medical interpreter certification.

A session, “Open Dialog on National Interpreter Certification: Possibility or Pipe Dream?”  included several speakers, who discussed the possibility of a generalist interpreter certification as well as information on the status for the specializations: ASL, community, medical, conference and legal (court) interpreter certification or lack thereof. Katharine Allen, a freelance interpreter who is on the CHIA Board, was charged with presenting the progress toward medical interpreter certification and attempted to give a balanced presentation, admitting the challenges. Katharine concluded that just a couple of years ago many in the field were saying national medical interpreter certification was years away. She noted that National Board developments that have occurred this year and other efforts are positive, since it will afford a framework for the profession as well as a baseline for competency that will evolve in future iterations of the test. The point, she said, is that we have started that process. The room was packed and a poll by the moderator showed that there were interpreters, interpreter trainers, and association leaders in the room, among others.

In the discussion, an attendee suggested including languages where no certification exists—in her case Hebrew—pointing out that there is a “hunger for credentials.” The National Board representative spoke of the 23- year process towards certification and the issue of patient safety and the need to get informed and involved. A participant also refuted the idea that for-profits somehow “taint” the process, emphasizing that everyone must take part in a project of this magnitude.

In conclusion , the moderator, pointing to the early divisions in the sign language interpreters field between the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf and National Association of the Deaf  during their certification history, and how they came together later to form the National Council on Interpreting, noted that this may happen in the field of medical interpreting. LJ