CCHI Community:Certified Interpreters

Time to talk about Education

Spanish Medical Interpreter/Translator Program at Walla Walla Community College, WA

Our profession has matured significantly in the last past years. The emergence of the national certification programs and wide acceptance of the National Standards for Interpreter Training Programs by NCIHC have added the final elements to the status of the healthcare interpreter profession. We are now ready to shift our mentality to acknowledging the fact that interpreters need general educational opportunities as well as specific skills or knowledge training ones. The same way healthcare professionals do. We are ready to talk about interpreter educators and education, understanding that our best trainers are actually educators.

We are seeing an emergent national trend of community colleges offering healthcare interpreting courses and certificate programs. They are tasked with preparing new generations of interpreters for entering the field. Such programs generate new talent who are ready to take a national professional certification exam upon graduation. As in other professions, while a college certificate is a starting point, a national certification is the seal of approval that allows an interpreter to practice independently and competently.

CCHI is excited to share the stories of successful interpreter educators. This story is about an innovative, state-of-the-art Spanish Medical Interpreter/Translator Program and Walla Walla Community College in rural Washington ( It once again illuminates the fact that in our world of virtual reality physical location doesn’t matter, that interpreters can complete their prerequisite and continuing education online.


Walla Walla Community College – Top Community College in the Nation


Walla Walla Community College has rapidly grown from 850 students in 1967 to a present annual enrollment of over 12,000. Located on approximately 100 acres, the Walla Walla campus has justifiably become an educational and cultural center for Southeastern Washington.

Extending facilities and programs throughout its four-county district, Walla Walla Community College's Clarkston campus, located in Clarkston, Washington, is the hub of educational activity in Asotin and Garfield counties.

From a pool of more than 1,000 colleges nationwide, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program named Walla Walla Community College (WWCC) the Top Community College in the Nation in 2013. The Aspen Institute said, “Walla Walla Community College’s visionary leaders stay on top of local economic job trends and job growth, and the entire college provides the kind of excellent training that students need to access well-paying jobs and that employers know will ensure future investments in the regional economy will pay off.”


WWCC responds to demand for Spanish Medical Interpreters

In 2009, WWCC responded to language access needs in the healthcare community and more specifically a need for Spanish Medical Interpreters. Historically, the need for interpreters in Washington State was primarily in large urban areas such as Seattle and Spokane. However, as the immigrant population dispersed to more rural areas such as Walla Walla and the surrounding communities the need for Spanish Medical Interpreter services arose.

WWCC Allied Health department proceeded by engaging in the program development such as:

  • Conducting a needs analysis
  • Forming an advisory committee
  • Consulting subject experts
  • Developing curriculum according to the National Standards for Health Care Interpreters
  • Seeking approval of the program Washington State Board of Technical and Community Colleges (SBTC)
  • Meeting the requirements for Federal Student aid and Veterans Administration

Forming an Advisory Committee which consists of representatives of interpreting industry, campus outpatient and inpatient healthcare facilities, social services, students, graduates and faculty of WWCC as well as Deans of Workforce Education and Health Sciences Education, was a crucial step in the success of the program.

Another key ingredient for success was aligning the certificate program curriculum with the National Standards for Healthcare Interpreter Training Programs. Additional research of established interpreter programs with proven success and the selection of methodology were facilitated by consulting a national healthcare interperting expert Cynthia E. Roat who is from Washington state.


Components of the Spanish Medical Interpreter and Translator Certificate Program



The WWCC Spanish Medical Interpreter and Translator Certificate Program (SMIT) has evolved since it commenced in 2010. Responding to demands for distance learning, technology in the workplace, and specialized training, the program is a collaboration between Medical translation, Social Service Interpreting, and a language company InDemand Interpreting whose partnership is coordinated by Eliana Lobo, their National Director for Quality and Training. (To see a video about the program, click here.)

The SMIT program offers interpreter/translator education for busy working adults. Starting the Fall of 2015, the SMIT program will begin an enhanced Online Learning model. The SMIT program’s distance learning features are delivered via an online learning platform called CANVAS which includes:

  • Mini Lectures, assignments and quizzes
  • Terminology exercises submitted through an audio recording feature
  • Video Chats for patient dialogue practice

Students only need to attend in person at the Walla Walla Campus once per quarter. That means 3 times out of the whole 9-month-long program. When students attend on-site, they will receive instruction in the Simulation Lab and get to meet other students in the program.

The WWCC SMIT program students are given an opportunity to spend time at a healthcare facility providing interpreting and/or translation services. Such practicum experiences are arranged in their service area to limit travel. Students can fulfill a portion of their practicum requirements by participating in arranged language access activities at Health Fairs, Community Events and completing a 30 hour Video Remote Interpreter practicum with InDemand Interpreting.

The crown jewel of the SMIT program is the Simulated Lab Experience between 2nd-year students of Nursing and SMIT students. The Simulation Lab components have been developed by Sandra Gonzalez Graham, MSN Ed, Coordinator of the SMIT program, and Traci Krebs, MN, NNP, Nursing Faculty at WWCC.

The Simulated Lab experiences consist of two types of interpreting encounters. One involves care for Mr. Yoder (Sim-Man) who is admitted to the medical floor with a diagnosis of Pneumonia, Sepsis, Dehydration, Schizophrenia, Right Great Toe Ulcer. In addition, Mr. Yoder’s Spanish-speaking family member is in the room. Nursing students are expected to effectively communicate with the family via the interpreter while conducting their assessments and delivering treatment. Medical interpreters are expected to interpret everything that is said. Nursing students are also expected to respond to cultural requests for priests, baptism, sobadoras, herbal remedies etc., and decide how to honor these requests within the confines of the medical setting and policies. Interpreter students are expected to know how and when to intervene as a cultural broker to provide clarification to providers about these cultural nuances.

The other Simulated Lab experience is the Multidisciplinary Conference scenario which consists of Spanish-speaking parents who are planning discharge to their home of their newborn Reyna with Anencephaly. This scenario is derived from a real-life situation in which Reyna lives 2 weeks beyond the expected life expectancy of a baby with Anencephaly. The scenario characters include Neurologist, Hospice Nurse, Social Worker, Surgeon, Respiratory Therapist, Reyna’s Parents, and Interpreter. The expectation of the student interpreter is to manage the dialogue by providing pre-session introduction, re-directing sidebars, and cultural brokering. Nursing students are expected to read their assigned part and pause as necessary and wait for interpretation to occur.

For more information regarding the SMIT Certificate Program, please contact Sandra Gonzalez Graham, MSN Ed, Transcultural Healthcare Specialist and Nursing Assistant Coordinator at 509-527-4462.