In an informal poll conducted across five Facebook interpreter/translator forums, 47% of those that responded indicated that training and certifications had made no difference, or only somewhat of a difference in their fees. I found this interesting, and surprising, for a few reasons.
First, training and the push to become certified is enormous in the world of interpreters. Interpreters, as a whole, invest a lot of time and money to be trained and certified. Learning is something that, at least in my personal opinion, is inherent with interpreters. We are always looking for ways to improve our knowledge and skills, and this is why being an interpreter is attractive to us. We love challenges.
Second, I question that if 1 in 2 interpreters don’t see any difference in their fees by participating in training or becoming certified, why do it? Some have said it is the feeling of accomplishment. Okay, I can relate to that statement. I know that when I received my certification, after an extended period of intense study and substantial financial investment, I was ecstatic. I think as the saying goes, I remained on cloud-9 for weeks.
Others have stated that to be trained and certified sets you apart as a professional. In many ways, I agree with this too. The interpreting and translation profession is unique, though, in comparison to other businesses in this regard. Take, for example, a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) versus a Registered Nurse (RN). An RN, with the additional education, is paid at a higher scale. A doctor who specializes generally commands higher fees than one that operates a general practice. We, as a general rule, expect to, in some way, be renumerated for our investment of time and money in ourselves. And, why wouldn’t we? This fee differential according to education, training and experience is not always the case within the interpreting profession.
Third, I look at the number of interpreters/translators that have gone from being interpreters to being trainers or agency owners. Why is this? There is no way to know all of the reasons as they are personal, however, let’s take a look at it just for fun. Shall we? On the benevolent side, it could be to share the knowledge one has gained through the years to help others succeed in the profession. On the practical side, it could be because it is lucrative, financially. Ever heard of the saying ‘it is a cash cow?’
And, speaking of cash cows, there is a training program for medical interpreters called ‘Bridging the Gap’ which, by the way, is outstanding basic training that allows one to enter the wonderful world of medical interpreting. In short, it is a 40-hour course that covers the basics. There are hundreds of agencies that offer this training program across the United States and the cost ranges around the $500 mark, with some charging slightly lower and some higher. Once a person completes this course, they receive a ‘certificate of completion’ and off they go to be a medical interpreter, which is how many start their medical interpreting careers. It is how I started, and I still use what I learned in this initial course. It is an excellent course, and I do recommend anyone thinking about becoming a medical interpreter to take it.
What has happened, though, is that this basic training course has become the standard versus being a springboard to actual certification. Many, and I do mean many, interpreters with this ‘certificate’ call themselves ‘certified.’ We know they are not certified. The trainers know they are not certified, and I think the certificate holders know that they are not either. The question then is, does the medical profession know? Honestly, I haven’t a clue, but I would suspect they do.
Why has this become the norm? Why is there so little difference between a certified medical interpreter’s fees and an interpreter that only has a certificate of attendance? Short answer, competition and cost control. Interpreting is a vast business, and it is a considerable expense for the medical industry. We, as interpreters, can beat the drums all we want about the quality of patient care and safety being jeopardized by using non-trained/certified interpreters, but the reality is there is a cost factor and the medical industry, like any other, has to control costs to survive. Likewise, the agency must control costs to survive and if they can get away with sending a lower cost interpreter, why not?
So, how does the interpreter survive this? First and foremost, understand that interpreting is a business, so treat it as such. It is all good and kind to say that you are in it to help people, and I think that is why many of us chose this profession, but be realistic too. You have bills to pay like everyone else, vacations to take, and retirement to plan for. Next, accept that this is a profession that is going through growing pains. There is a place for everyone –phone interpreters, video interpreters, and face to face interpreters. Embrace all of it and figure out where you best fit in.
Next, just like a musician must continue to practice, so must the interpreter. It is a profession that we knew going in would require continued practice and dedication. Look for training classes, seminars, webinars and so on that will help you keep your skills sharp. And, like other businesses, look at the costs of these training classes. You are in business to make money so do some comparison shopping.
Finally, if you work through an agency (let’s face it, most of us do), remember that in almost all cases it is a business to business relationship. The agency is ‘your’ client, not the person or entity for whom you are interpreting. You are selling your services to the agency, and the agency is selling their services to the end client. We both need each other to be a success.
David Martin Tucker, Certified Spanish Medical Interpreter, CHI™, or “Spanish David” as he is known, is a certified medical interpreter whose passion for Latin American culture and language is second only to his desire to become a voice for his Spanish speaking clients. Conveying more than words, David’s continuous thirst for knowledge thrusts him into the culture of his clients.
David is an honor’s graduate from the Southern California School of Interpreting’s Medical Interpreter Program and holds bachelor degrees in both Modern Languages (Spanish) and Business from Metropolitan State College of Denver and the University of Southern Indiana respectively.
A founding member of the El Puente Bilingual Toastmasters in Denver, David is also a contributor to the International Medical Interpreters Association (IMIA), the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), and is a member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Health Care Patient Advisory Board.