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A Unique Health Care Interpreter Certificate Program Responds to Community Need

health care interpreter

As a teenager, Lisette Albano watched her young friends accompany their immigrant parents to doctor’s visits. The reason? The teens served as interpreters, relaying complex medical information between the doctors and family members with limited English.

A native of Cuba who moved to the U.S. at age 14, Albano advocates a different approach today, noting: “There is so much nuance to health care interpreting. Only a trained interpreter can offer the unbiased and knowledgeable assistance needed.”

Albano would know, as a recently trained instructor and coach in Howard Community College’s new Health Care Interpreter Certificate Program. Supported by a $166,690 grant from the Horizon Foundation, the new program teaches bilingual students how to effectively interpret in health care settings.

The Need for Health Care Interpreters

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the job growth for interpreters and translators in the next ten years to be “much faster than average,” with 17,500 new jobs created between 2014 and 2024. (Interpreters work in spoken or sign language; translators work in written language.)

The demand for interpreters is driven by increasing numbers of limited English proficient residents. Howard County, Maryland is a microcosm of this trend, where 18.2 percent of residents are foreign born and 22.5 percent speak a language other than English at home.

The Horizon Foundation, an independent philanthropy dedicated to improving health and wellness in Howard County, identified the need for health care interpreters after reaching out to local health care providers, non-English speaking community representatives and educators to talk about health care barriers. Issues with interpretation rose to the top.

“To have good health care, people must have good communication with their doctors and providers,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “In Howard County, we have the great potential to develop a workforce of trained individuals right from our community to serve our community and improve care.”

Howard Community College’s Innovative Approach

Howard Community College (HCC), which reflects the diversity of its county with 104 different countries represented in its student body, proved to be the ideal education partner.

The grant provides funding for three major elements: 1) instructor training, 2) a health care language coach training, and 3) the certificate program itself, which provides bilingual and bicultural students the knowledge and skills needed to be effective in health care settings.

Students who successfully complete the program will earn a Health Care Interpreter Certificate and be ready to work with patients and health care providers in a variety of settings. As for salary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that Maryland is one of the top paying states for interpreters and translators, averaging $30.25 an hour or $62,910 a year. The nearby District of Columbia and Virginia are also in the top five.

“We set out to develop a rigorous, quality health care interpreter certificate program at HCC,” said President Kate Hetherington. “We believe our program has some truly unique elements that sets it apart from anything else in the region and ensures our students are highly prepared and ready to start interpreting upon certificate completion.”

Howard Community College looked to the City College of San Francisco’s highly regarded Health Care Interpreter Certificate as a model, while also working with community partners to develop a program best suited to addressing local needs.

One particularly unique element of HCC’s program is the inclusion of language coaches. These academic coaches will assist instructors and practice role-playing with students, as well as monitor their linguistic and cultural understanding in those situations. And while many programs only require 40 hours of instruction, HCC offers 100 hours of classroom instruction, as well as fieldwork in health care settings.

The First Class of Interpreters

With the instructor and coach training complete, Howard Community College anticipates offering its first fourteen-week Health Care Interpreter Certificate program in the fall of 2016.

Interested students should be native in their language of service, near fluent in English, and have at least a GED.  Previous experience interpreting in schools, health care or the court system is valued.

Chun Ye, who is bilingual and works in the medical records field, recently completed the language coach training. She sees a need for interpreters in the health care center where she works. "Hopefully in the future we can turn to this program to hire on-call interpreters to help in our office with our Spanish-speaking patients. It's a very necessary program here in our county."

For information on how to apply to the Health Care Interpreter Certificate Program, visit If you are interested in our other health care offerings, visit our credit health care division.

Topics: Career Focus
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