Spanish Medical Interpreting Program

A career as a healthcare interpreter

There is much more to being a certified healthcare interpreter than you would think! 

¿Hablas español? Do you want to build on your bilingual skills and work with the Latino community in the healthcare field? The Spanish Medical Interpreting Program (SMIP) at CBC may be for you! Our program prepares students to enter the rewarding, flexible, and well-compensated career of healthcare interpreting. The desire to work in this profession is fueled by a passion to help linguistically diverse patients receive equitable healthcare and improved health outcomes. The program starts every fall quarter and applicants must pass an entrance test to be accepted. 

CBC offers a sequential, three-quarter (15 credit) short-term certificate in Spanish Medical Interpreting. The program combines in-class instruction and guided skill-building activities with real-world experience in local healthcare clinics. Our faculty combine academic expertise with years of professional and extensive interpreting experience. Upon successful completion of the short-term certificate, students can sit for either the national or the state (Department of Social and Health Services - DSHS) medical interpreting certification examinations.

  • Our interpreting program only offers a fall quarter start.
  • The program takes nine months to complete.
  • All classes are held face-to-face, at the Pasco campus and attendance is required.
  • Each course is offered sequentially, you cannot take all the courses in one quarter.
  • Students register for one section each quarter. Each section meets twice a week for two hours, for a total of four hours per week.
  • There are additional lab times for short oral terminology tests.
  • Students must successfully pass each quarter to progress to the following quarter.
In addition to the class lecture and lab hours, each quarter students are required to complete clinical hours. These hours include a minimum number of shifts, which are performed at various healthcare clinics located throughout the Tri-Cities. Shifts are available during the week and on Saturdays. Students need to arrange to attend these required shifts, as attendance is mandatory. 
  • During the program you will learn relevant bilingual medical terminology, along with definitions of important terms and concepts.
  • You will learn about standard interpreter protocols and state, national and international interpreter ethics and standards of practice.
  • There will be plenty of guided in-class interpreting practice, plus a chance to practice everything you learn in class with patients and healthcare providers during clinical hours.
  • We will practice taking tests to get you more comfortable and ready to take the state or national certification exams.
  • Lastly, we will have frequent guest speaker events to meet alumni and industry professionals, and to learn about the interpreting industry and the steps you need to take to begin work as an interpreter once you are certified.

All courses for the program are cross-listed as HSCI and SPAN. Cross-listed means that the same individual course can be designated in one of two places on your transcript, depending on your academic intent.

Students that complete all three quarters registered with the HSCI prefix will be eligible for the short-term certificate annotation on their transcript. Students that complete the courses using the SPAN prefix will not be eligible for the transcript annotation.

If you plan to apply to a CBC Health Science Program such as Nursing or Radiologic Technology, you should select the HSCI prefix, as the completion of the short-term SMIP certificate may count as a point on the admissions index.

If you qualify for financial aid, you may wish to select the SPAN prefix. If you qualify for financial assistance through the Workforce Education Center (WEC) or other vocational assistance, you should choose the HSCI prefix. 

Course registration is an important decision, and we recommend that you speak to our Arts, Humanities and Communication (AHC) Completion Coach to help you decide.

  • HSCI 148 Spanish Medical Interpreting I (5 credits)
  • SPAN 281 Spanish Medical Interpreting I (5 credits) 
  • HSCI 149 Spanish Medical Interpreting II (5 credits)
  • SPAN 282 Spanish Medical Interpreting II (5 credits)
  • HSCI 150 Spanish Medical Interpreting III (5 credits)
  • SPAN 283 Spanish Medical Interpreting III (5 credits)

There are no required prerequisite courses for the Spanish Medical Interpreting Program. For students who wish to improve their Spanish language proficiency, we recommend any of the Spanish for Spanish Speakers courses. 

  • SPAN 205 Spanish for Spanish Speakers (5 credits)
  • SPAN 206 Spanish for Spanish Speakers (5 credits)
  • SPAN 207 Spanish for Spanish Speakers (5 credits)

We recommend students take Medical Terminology either before starting the program, or at the same time, however it is not a prerequisite.

  • HSCI 147 Medical Terminology (5 credits)

Applicants do not need to take any math or English assessment tests. 

Students who complete all three quarters registered with the HSCI prefix will be eligible for the short-term certificate annotation on their transcript. Students that complete the courses using the SPAN prefix will not be eligible for the transcript annotation. 

Check with our AHC Completion Coach for more information, and assistance with academic planning. See Faculty & Advisors for contact information. 

Students may qualify for traditional or vocational financial assistance with the Spanish Medical Interpreting Program through one of several programs. Additional information will be provided.

If you would like more information about our program, please attend one of our frequent Informational Sessions. During the session, questions will be answered by the Program Coordinator and an AHC Completion Coach. Anyone interested in a career as a healthcare interpreter should attend. These sessions are free and open to the public. Check out the dates for upcoming sessions and register via our CBC calendar.

Each state, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. protectorates vary in what professions they require to be licensed and the educational requirements for those licenses. It’s important to understand whether the degree or certificate you obtain from CBC will meet the educational eligibility requirements for a license in the state in which you plan to practice. 

View educational licensure requirement by state.


Application Process

As a medical interpreter, you will work bi-directionally between your A and B languages; interpreting what the healthcare providers say in English, into Spanish, and what the Spanish-speaking patient says, into English. Near-native listening comprehension and strong speaking proficiency in both your working languages are a must. Therefore, to be accepted into the Spanish Medical Interpreter Program you must demonstrate your  language proficiency by taking the entrance test. 

  • The test evaluates oral and reading proficiency in English and Spanish.
  • It can only be taken once per academic year.
  • There is no cost to take the test.
  • You do not need to be a CBC student to take the test. 
  • Read the information in the Entrance Test Orientation Canvas Class to familiarize yourself with the entrance test. 
  • The last step in this Canvas class is to schedule your entrance test.
  • Entrance tests are administered in-person, on our Pasco campus.

Dates will vary per calendar year, by a day or two, current dates will be listed in the Entrance Test Orientation Canvas Class.  Generally they will be:

  • May 1 to July 21

To be accepted into the program each fall quarter, you must schedule an entrance test during these testing dates.

Students are accepted into the program based on the score achieved in the entrance test. Please be patient as it may take several weeks to grade the tests. You will be notified of the entrance test results via the email address you provide on the application form. Accepted students will receive an email outlining the next steps to start the program such as applying to become a CBC student and course registration. 

If you do not pass the entrance test, the evaluators will specify if you should improve your English or Spanish proficiency. We encourage you to check-out our suggestions for improving language proficiency, take classes if you can, and to apply again the following year.

We do not have any booklets or materials to study for the entrance test. You do not need to study medical terminology in particular, as this will be taught during the program.

As you will work bi-directionally between your A and B languages, you need to have native or near-native abilities in both English and Spanish.

Applicants should be as fluent as possible in reading and speaking both English and Spanish with good grammar, pronunciation, and a wide range of vocabulary. 

Here are some suggestions to improve your language proficiency. If you feel less fluent in one of these languages, focus on that language:

Read every day.
  • In particular in your nonnative language.
  • Read high-quality online newspapers and articles, or any well-written material that will help broaden your general knowledge and vocabulary.
Listen to audiobooks in both languages.
Watch TV news and listen to radio news and podcasts, such as TED talks, on current events in both languages.
  • Listen and analyze what you hear and/or read.
  • Make lists of new vocabulary terms you hear and/or read.
Live in a country where your nonnative language is spoken.
  • At least six months to a year is recommended.
  • Live with and/or frequently interact with native speakers of your nonnative language.
  • Practice speaking with friends, family and community members in both of your languages.
  • Take content-related classes in your nonnative language.
  • Work in a setting that requires high-level use of your nonnative language.

Become computer savvy.
  • Familiarize yourself with online navigation, search engines and electronic dictionaries.
  • Learn to use advanced functions of Word and Excel, such as spellcheck in both languages.

Be prepared for lifelong learning and be patient.
  • Bringing your language skills up to the level required of a professional interpreter is not a task that can be accomplished quickly. However, with a combination of determination and hard work, you can succeed in this challenging field.


Spanish Medical Interpreting Program Goals


The primary goal of the CBC Spanish Medical Interpreter Program is to prepare students for state or national medical interpreter certification and to enter the workforce as professional, ethical, and competent healthcare interpreters.

In fulfilling this goal, the program includes the following:

  • concepts and relevant bilingual terminology in biomedicine
  • glossary building
  • basic medical prefixes, roots and suffixes in Greek and Latin
  • state, national, and international codes of ethics, standards of practice and their application
  • language access laws and HIPAA
    interpreting positioning, protocols and
  • intervention techniques
  • ethical decision-making
  • foundational skills in healthcare interpreting modalities
  • guided interpreting practice
  • development of self-evaluation skills
  • business practices in the interpreting industry 
  • guest speaker events with industry representatives and alumni
  • post-program completion guidance
    job shadows at local hospitals
  • required service-learning hours at local clinics 
  • access to internship opportunities


To become a certified medical interpreter you must pass either the state or the national certification exams. The coursework in the program prepares students for both options. However, the CBC certificate for the Spanish Medical Interpreter Program is not a substitute for state or national certification. 

Washington State DSHS (Department of Social and Health Services) certified medical interpreters are certified to interpret in Washington State only. If you wish to work in other states including Oregon, you must become nationally certified.

Nationally certified medical interpreters can interpret anywhere in the US, including OPI (over the phone interpreting) and VRI (video remote interpreting) in all states. 

Please note that CBC’s Spanish Medical Interpreter Program prepares students in the career of oral interpreting, not as written translators. Although translation and interpretation have a lot in common, the practice of each profession requires different skill sets and professional certifications.

There are two national certifying organizations for healthcare interpreters, and both require that applicants complete a minimum 40-hour training program.

The Spanish Medical Interpreter Program satisfies this requirement and provides a much more comprehensive training than a 40-hour training program.

The State DSHS test has no requirements other than being 18 years old. However, the pass rate is very low.  This is because without any training in interpreting skills, ethics, and medical terminology, it is very difficult to successfully pass the test. It would be comparable to taking a welding certification test without any training on how to be a welder.

A certified interpreter is a professional interpreter who is certified as competent by an accredited professional organization or government entity through rigorous testing based on appropriate and consistent criteria that have been used in developing valid and reliable tests.

Interpreters who have had limited training or have taken a screening test administered by an employing health, interpreter or referral agency are not considered certified. Someone who possesses a "Certificate of Attendance" or a "Certificate of Completion" from a training program is not considered to be certified. The CBC certificate in Spanish Medical Interpreting is not a substitute for state or national certification.


SMIP students

A medical or healthcare interpreter is a bilingual or a multilingual person who is professionally qualified to interpret in clinical settings. A medical interpreter can work in healthcare settings of any kind, including:

  • doctor’s offices
  • clinics (e.g. medical specialties, rehabilitation clinics)
  • hospitals (all departments such as the ER, the NICU, diagnostic imaging, labor and delivery, before, during and after surgery)
  • home health visits
  • mental health clinics
  • public health presentations
  • Generally the setting is an interview between a healthcare provider (doctor, nurse, lab technician) and a patient (or the patient and one or more family members).

Healthcare interpreters can interpret in various modalities:

  • onsite
  • remotely
  • via the telephone (OPI)
  • via video (VRI)

There are four types of healthcare interpreters: 

  • in-house interpreters (staff interpreters)
  • freelance interpreters (contract interpreters)
  • dual role interpreters (bilingual staff)
  • volunteer interpreters

Freelance healthcare interpreters:

  • earn between $26.50 to $60/hour
  • enjoy a flexible schedule
  • can sign up for appointments in advance and also work on-call, especially in acute settings such as ER

In-house healthcare interpreters:

  • may be eligible for benefits and have guaranteed hours (however, they may earn
    less per hour than freelancers)
  • often have set shifts or hours

Healthcare interpreters speak of their role as very rewarding; helping patients and family members of limited English proficiency communicate effectively with the healthcare team.

Career Outlook

The demand for professional interpreters has increased worldwide and the local language services industry is also growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that “the employment of interpreters and translators is projected to grow 24 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 10,400 openings for interpreters and translators are projected each year, on average, over the decade.”

A freelance interpreter is a language professional who is self-employed and works independently with a range of clients, rather than being employed by a single healthcare facility or organization. Freelance interpreters do much of the same work as in-house interpreters, however the work is more flexible, which, depending on your goals and family commitments, can be an advantage.

If you want to freelance, it is important to understand how to set-up and run your own business, and this is something that students will learn in the program.

The program prepares you to enter the interpreting industry as a freelance or in-house interpreter or language professional. The language industry is booming and evolving fast, on a global and local scale. Certified healthcare interpreters are needed in virtually every healthcare facility, with Spanish being the most in-demand language. It’s true that during the pandemic the demand for remote interpreting has increased, but there will always be a need for high-quality on-site interpreters when accurate, nuanced communication really matters.

Translation and interpretation agencies, also called language service providers (LSPs), hire freelance interpreters to provide language services across multiple languages and locations. If you want to work as a freelance interpreter, you will sign up with either one or more agencies. 

Healthcare facilities (such as clinics, hospitals etc.) hire in-house and per-diem interpreters to provide on-site interpreting, combined with remote interpreting services across multiple languages. 

The field of healthcare interpretation is still a young profession, and as a result, there is sometimes confusion about its basic aspects. Even though we often hear these two terms used interchangeably, the fields of translation and interpretation are actually different professions, each requiring specialized training, skills and certifications. 

Each profession focuses on a different mode of communication. A translator renders the written word from one language to another. An interpreter renders the spoken or signed word from one language to another. Many language professionals work as both interpreters and translators, while others focus on only one.

You will probably pick up interpreting skills quickly if you have most of the following qualities: a wide range of vocabulary in English and Spanish and you do not have any problems switching from one language to the other; you are an active listener; you are clear and articulate when you speak; you do not mind speaking in public, even if it can be stressful; you are resourceful and able to think quickly on your feet; you are naturally curious; you love analyzing languages, and you are a fast learner.

Near-native listening comprehension and strong speaking proficiency in both your working languages are a must. Knowledge of or experience in the medical field are not required, but they are a plus!



image of interpreter with doctor and patient