What is a CHI and CMI?

Mar 4, 2020

For non-medical professionals, the healthcare landscape can often seem confusing to navigate. It’s shrouded with the complexities of medical care and filled to the brim with jargon, which requires years of rigorous training—not just for practitioners but medical interpreters as well, to comprehend.

The first step to becoming qualify as a medical interpreter, is to be fluent in English and a target language. However, simply speaking and knowing a language is not enough to understand all of the factors that make up the field of interpretation.

Getting certified assures that interpreters have the correct set of skills to make communication as professional and fluid as possible.

Related: How to Overcome Language Barriers in Healthcare

Certification options for healthcare interpreters

There are two basic options for medical interpreters to get certified, each of which is governed by its own nationally recognized certifying body. The first designation is the Certified Medical Interpreter–CMI for short, which is governed by NBCMI (National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters). The second is the Certified Healthcare Interpreter—shortened to CHI, governed by CCHI, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters. While they’re both medical interpreter certifications, they’re fundamentally different.

They differ in a variety of ways from the prerequisites for joining the training to the languages offered; that’s why it’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of the certification process for each program. Having said that, most interpreters prefer getting both designations as long as it supports their language.

Become a certified interpreter with Liberty Language Services.

Basic certification requirements for interpreters


To be eligible to sit for either of the certification programs, an applicant needs to be 18 years or older.


The applicant should possess a GED or high school diploma and must have spent a minimum of 40 hours being trained as a healthcare interpreter. They must also be fluent in both English and their target languages.


While CHI doesn’t require applicants to provide proof of requirements when applying, CMI does. It requires prospective candidates to provide evidence of language proficiency, which can be substituted with proof of employment or oral proficiency in the form of a degree or training in the target language.

What is a Certified Healthcare Interpreter?

A certified healthcare interpreter is a professional designation conferred by the CCHI and is a nationally recognized medical interpreter certification. CHIs are placed in assignments that can involve patient care.

Related: The Importance of Easily-Accessible Interpretation & Translation Services

The CCHI’s certification process


Once an applicant has fulfilled the above prerequisites, the next step for them is to choose between the three target languages from CCHI, i.e., Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. They then need to pay a $35 registration fee for either of their target languages.

Oral Exam

Afterward, the applicant can then book their CCHI written exam for $175 to be paid on or before the end of the year—prices are subject to change. Once that’s done, the next step for candidates is to prepare for the oral exam, which costs about $275.

The oral performance exam is conducted at a testing center, and exams are offered quarterly. Candidates are given a 30-minute window to prepare before being handed four consecutive, two simultaneous, three brief sight translation passages, and one multiple-choice question; with one hour to complete.

Written Exam

The Written CCHI exams are offered throughout the year at one of their testing centers. It contains 100 single-choice questions, and candidates are allotted a maximum of two hours to complete it.


CCHI’s certifications are valid for four years before they need to renew their certificate. During recertification, interpreters are not retested and typically have to spend about 20 hours interpreting after spending 32 hours on continuing education in a four-year cycle.

Recertification also means that individuals should renew their application for each set of 2 years, and there should be delivered to CCHI at least a month before the certification period ends—the total cost of renewing the certification translates to about $300 payable every four years.

What is a Certified Medical Interpreter?

The Certified Medical Interpreter is an internationally recognized certification that’s required to provide medical interpreter services. It’s issued by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, a division of the IMIA.

Related: Translation Services: Maximize Your Reach

The International Medical Interpreters Association.

To be eligible, applicants need to meet the basic certification requirements for interpreters shown above.

Once an applicant is deemed to be eligible, they are required to choose between one of the six languages which includes Mandarin, Korean, Cantonese, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Russian.


The next step of the application process is to pay the $35 registration fee.

Written Exam

Candidates are then required to take two exams, a written exam and an oral one. The written exam costs $175 while the oral one is $275.

The written exam is offered all-year-round and can be taken in a testing center or online. It consists of a total of 51 questions, and candidates are required to complete within the 75-minute time limit.

Oral Exam

The oral exam is also available throughout the year and can be done both online or at one of the accredited testing centers. It consists of 12 mini-scenarios mini-scenarios and two sight translation sections that that must be completed within an hour.


Certified medical interpreters are then required to renew their certification every five years, but there’s no retesting.

Thus, certified medical interpreters are required to provide proof of a minimum of 30 hours of continued professional development or education.

To renew their certificate, medical interpreters under IMIA are required to apply at least six weeks before the end of the five-year recertification period and pay a renewal fee of $300.

Learn more about becoming a certified interpreter with Liberty Language Services.

Why are medical interpreters important?

In a world where there’s a diverse range of languages and cultures, it’s become increasingly important to bridge the gap to to assure access to healthcare services is more inclusive for Limited English Proficiency (LEP) patients.
Here are a few reasons why medical interpreters are essential:

Mitigate risks

One of the main problems of language barriers, especially in healthcare, is that it increases the risk of a misdiagnosis, getting improper consent, and may even make it hard for the patient to follow the prescribed treatment plan. is risk by decreasing the language barrier between healthcare providers and patients.Consequently, it re

Certified healthcare or medical interpreters help mitigate the chances of getting malpractice lawsuits and patients getting adverse reactions.

Related: Why Technological Interpreting Services Are Necessary, Easy Tools

Improves patient satisfaction

The key to improving patient satisfaction is by helping them understand their health status by communicating in a language that they know. Due to the language barrier, a majority of LEP patients give a lower satisfaction score compared to native English speaking patients.

Communicate objectively

Whenever a patient goes to the hospital for medical treatment, they’re typically in a vulnerable state, and more often than not, they need to make critical decisions while in distress.

Using a certified medical interpreter to communicate with the patient in this vulnerable state is the best way of making sure there’s no emotional bias involved and that the right information is relayed.

Ensures compliance with the law and other regulatory bodies

Most, if not all, medical professions are governed by strict regulations and laws, and being able to comply with these regulations promotes a more safe environment for LEP patients.

Regulatory bodies and laws like Title VI, ACA, HIPAA, the Disabilities Act, etc. often affect the financial disposition of healthcare providers.


Whenever a LEP patient goes to seek medical care, it’s difficult for healthcare providers, regardless of experience, to provide quality medical care without the help of a qualified and professionally certified medical interpreter.

While uncertified friends, family, or staff may try to help bridge the language barrier, they don’t have the necessary knowledge or experience to relay the information to a patient accurately.

This poses a grave risk to the patient’s life and often exposes healthcare providers to unnecessary liabilities. That’s why healthcare providers often rely on the services provided by Certified Medical Interpreters (CMI) or Certified Healthcare Interpreters (CHI). Get started with training to get certified by checking out our online courses at Liberty Language Services.

Related: How Interpreter Services Can Revolutionize Your Global Business