If you’re interested in breaking into the medical interpretation industry, you’ve most likely run across the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) certification and the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NCBMI) certification. Receiving a certification through one of these organizations is required in order to work as a language specialist with a hospital or other medical organization, but the obvious question is what certification should you go for? A good question, as both require different investments in time and price, and test different skills and languages.

A Quick Note on BEI Certification

The Board for Evaluation of Interpreters have their own certification, colloquially known as the BEI certification. This certification is explicitly for ASL interpreters, and is usually a central requirement in most state and federally sanctioned medical interpreter programs. If you are wanting to work as an ASL interpreter in a medical environment, then the BEI certification is essential. If you wish to interpret for another language, though, then it is unneeded.


Both certifications have identical pre-requisites for applying. An applicant must be at least 18 years old, must have a high-school diploma, must speak a second language, and must have at least 40 hours of medical interpreter training. This training is usually performed by partnering with an interpretation agency, who will host seminars on the topic and will provide the applicant with a certificate to prove they have developed a robust knowledge of interpreting for the medical field


An interpreter should note what languages are covered under a given certification. CCHI offers three tiers to their language certification, with the first two tiers, the CoreCHI and CoreCHI-Performance certifications being language-neutral certifications that cover topics like medical knowledge and professionalism. The third tier, the CHI certification, tests the language skills of the interpreter, and is only available to Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin interpreters.

Similarly, the NCBMI has two tiers; its initial tier, Hub-CMI, is also a non-language based assessment, while its second tier, known as FULL Certification, is offered in Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Vietnamese, and Korean. Interpreters should keep these languages in mind when applying.


Both certifications go beyond evaluating language comprehension to ensure that the interpreter has a grasp on the healthcare industry, and is ready to work in a medical environment. Both certifications written exams have a heavy focus on medical terminology and standard practices for working alongside healthcare professionals, though the NBCMI devotes more of its questions to this realm than the CCHI. CCHI’s test, in contrast, has more questions devoted to the interpreter profession, with about a third of its questions being unrelated to the medical field. The CCHI also requires all interpreters wishing to achieve the CoreCHI-Performance certification to complete an English-to-English Interpretation exam. Known as the ETOE exam, this test was devised as a way to evaluate a person’s ability to communicate core ideas and concepts regardless of language, allowing for interpreters who speak less common languages to still have an avenue for employers to assess their language skills.

For full certification, both institutes also require applicants to complete an oral examination. The CCHI utilizes a balanced outline for its exam, consisting of four consecutive interpreting sessions, two simultaneous interpreting sessions, three brief sight translation passages, and one multiple choice translation question. The NCBMI, on the other hand, places a greater focus on consecutive interpretation, with ten of its twelve questions touching on the subject. The final two questions are sight translation questions with a high focus on identifying and translating medical terminology.

Cost and Recertification

Both certifications offer similar pricing, though there are discrepancies when selecting a language-neutral certification. In total, a full CHI certification will cost $533, while the NBCMI certification will cost $485. Additionally, applicants should expect to pay $300 to recertify every four years for the CHI and every five years for the NBCMI. Additionally, both agencies expect certification holders to complete a certain amount of training during this time period in order to be eligible for recertification: 32 hours for the CHI, 30 hours for the NCBMI. The CHI also requires that those seeking recertification prove that they have completed at least 40 hours of healthcare interpreting within the past four years to ensure the interpreter is regularly using the skills evaluated by the examination. The NCBMI certification, in contrast, does not require any proof of healthcare interpretation.


While there is nothing stopping someone from holding certification through both organizations, the CCHI’s exams provide a more thorough evaluation of an interpreter’s skill regardless of language. However, the NCBMI’s greater focus on medical terminology and ethics provides the applicant a greater understanding of the environment they will be primarily working in. Additionally, the NCBMI’s higher range of languages allows for more interpreters to highlight their skill in a given language. Applicants should consider these options against the requirements of the given medical industry they wish to work in when deciding which of these certifications to pursue.