There are two types of people who typically ask this question:
1) People who have had training as a medical interpreter, but haven’t interpreted “for real” yet.
If you’ve completed a medical interpreting training program, you may or may not have had enough interpreting practice to begin working right away as a medical interpreter. If you feel like you have had enough practice and are ready to take the leap to interpreting for real, live people, you may feel ready to get your first job as a medical interpreter. However, I highly recommend considering volunteering and getting certified as a medical interpreter first, and I’ll explain why below.
Many people volunteer as interpreters with free and charitable (safety net) clinics or other nonprofits after completing their training as a way to get extra practice before landing their first job as a medical interpreter. This is a great way to interpret for real appointments in what some have found to be a more supportive environment for beginners. That being said, volunteering as an interpreter should not serve as a replacement for medical interpreting practice, and you should be as prepared as possible to interpret for each appointment. Another benefit of volunteering is that this can be listed on your resume or CV as interpreting experience!
Volunteering can also help you in preparing for the medical interpretation certification exams. I highly recommend getting certified as a medical interpreter before applying for medical interpreting jobs, as this can help you to ask for higher pay that may be difficult to negotiate later. Just by the nature of practicing for the certification exams, you gain valuable knowledge and experience as an interpreter. This is something else you can add to your resume or CV to make up for the fact that you may not have experience.
While you can certainly get a job as a medical interpreter without work experience as an interpreter, without volunteer experience as an interpreter, and without being certified as a medical interpreter, not all companies might be willing to hire you. Additionally, as I mentioned above, you will likely start off with lower pay, and it can be difficult to ask for a higher rate later when you are more experienced and/or become certified.
2) People who have no training as an interpreter and also have no experience interpreting.
If you do not have training or experience as an interpreter but are looking for a company to hire you as a medical interpreter, you might be able to find a company that will hire you and provide you training if you are bilingual. While this is the least expensive way to become an interpreter, it does come with hidden costs, so to speak. To begin with, the focus of the company’s training will likely be on their policies and procedures, and not really focused on medical interpreting in general. This means that the company may not be training you in keeping with medical interpreting best practices, and that if you want to work somewhere else, you may not be able to use that training to apply for another interpreting job.
If you think about it, the companies that hire interpreters with no training and no experience are spending a decent amount of time (and money) to train you before you begin working for them. This means that they expect to make up that cost with the work you provide them later. This is why companies that provide you interpreter training up front may make you sign a contract in which you promise to work for them for a certain amount of time, or pay you significantly less than other medical interpreters earn. So, if you think about it, the training they provide you isn’t really free. You’re promising them something in return later, either in the form of your ability to choose where to work, or in the form of your wages.
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