On Thursday, February 23rd, a number of press releases announced that one of the two certifying bodies of medical interpreters in the United States, the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI), had merged with the oldest international medical interpreters association, the IMIA. In my opinion, this disappointing and not at all surprising fusion, clearly defined by its precursors as a “significant strategic move”‎, claims to be intended to further the profession of interpreting. However, this statement might just end up turning into a simple afterthought. Why? Because it has put the IMIA in a position where its 25 years of neutrality and non-for-profit status could be questioned by interpreters trying to find in its portal information about a certification process that is transparent and impartial.

A little bit of history: The National Board was actually created in 2009 with the support and “guidance” of a company called Language Line Services, Inc., one of the biggest private providers of language services in the United States.  Its leader, Mr. Louis Provenzano, has in many occasions, openly declared the relationship of Language Line Services with the National Board. In the letter that he wrote on Thursday commenting on this “milestone day”, he said “Language Line Services said that once the operational side was stable, we would step back and turn the reins over to the field.” Evidently, and just for Language Line, “the field” has now turned into the association whom they, two years earlier, had established as a public/private partnership to aid in the development of the certification test. He wrote, “After 3 years of partnership, we are convinced that the IMIA has the infrastructure and leadership to carry this forward to the next chapter.” Convenient, don’t you think?

This is my point: imagine you are a language service provider with no association to Language Line Services, in essence a competitor, a stake holder. What would you think of a certification process (which is needed to protect the quality of the business) that appears to be connected to other private interests? Furthermore, as an interpreter, would you consider a certification that even though it was always meant to be neutral, is openly linked to the private sector? I know I fell for it. I have CMI credentials. I was so excited to be the first person in Ohio to take the exam and be recognized as a certified interpreter that I completely missed these ‘little details’. But it’s okay… because now I know better. I know that, in 2009, when the National Coalition on Health Care Interpreter Certification, called for unity in the process of creating a “valid, credible, inclusive, and transparent national process,” the IMIA and Language Line went separate ways. I know that today, after this “partnership” has produced a certification process, the NBCMI pays Language Line $125 for each oral examination administered and IMIA $75 for each written exam administered. In other words, I know my certification was crafted for the wrong purposes.

In spite of my disappointment, I know now that back in July of 2009, the same coalition kept on fighting. After seeking a more formal organizational and legal structure to develop the certification, this coalition created and incorporated the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) in order to continue the goals of accomplishing certification through an “inclusive process involving all stakeholders.” Today, CCHI’s mission of developing a national, valid, credible and vendor-neutral certification process has prevailed, and since early 2011, it has been offering the exam for Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin interpreters. The credentials conferred (Certified Healthcare Interpreter, CHI) are granted once the interpreter passes both the written and oral exams. Interpreters are, unlike the exam from the National Board, even tested on all three modes of interpretation when taking the oral exam. What else can I say? Oh, I know… I am scheduled to take the first part of the test in two weeks. When are you going to?