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Spanish Medical Terminology for Interpreters Working in Hospital

Posted by Dr. Nelva Lee on Sep 30, 2020 11:00:00 AM
Dr. Nelva Lee

Spanish medical terminology for interpreters

Being a Spanish/English medical interpreter is a position with a lot of responsibility. Your understanding of both languages must be perfect, and you must be able to catch nuances and small differences in similar words or phrases. Medical terms are unfamiliar to most people. To be an effective interpreter and patient advocate, you need to fully understand the meaning of both common and uncommon words in English and Spanish languages.

Because patients depend on you for information and comfort, your translation services must be accurate. Here are a few tips to help you improve your accuracy and ensure that you deliver complete information to the patients, their families, and the doctors you help.

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Why Spanish Medical Interpreters Are in Demand

In the 2013 Census, 60.6 million people (21 percent of this population) reported that they spoke a language other than English at home. Of those, 37,579,787 spoke Spanish. Nearly 17% of Spanish speakers said they didn't speak English well, and 9% didn't speak English at all.

In California, the national average bears out. More than two-thirds of California immigrants report speaking English proficiently, and 10% speak zero English.

While it’s a small number of non-English speakers compared to the total population, it’s still a lot of people in need of help. Medical interpreters are called in when they need help most, to help patients understand their medical conditions, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options. They need to learn to care for themselves, take medications properly, and how to follow up. 

Common Spanish Medical Terminology for Interpreters

As a medical interpreter, you’ll need to learn thousands of medical words and phrases, many of which you’ll use almost daily. You will likely need to interpret conversations live as the happened also use your written language skills to do paperwork, enter medical coding, and make notes. Your interpretation skills must be nuanced, accurate, and fast.

Here’s a shortlist of some common terms you’ll need to know.

Medical Specialists and Procedures




el/la anestesiólogo


el cardiólogo, la cardióloga

CT scan 

la tomografía computada


el médico, la médica

Draw blood 

sacar sangre


el electrocardiograma


el endocrinólogo, la endocrinóloga

Fetal monitor

el monitor fetal


el gastroenterólogo, la gastroenteróloga


el ginecólogo, la ginecóloga

Intensive care

la unidad de cuidados intensivos


el neurólogo, la neuróloga


el enfermero, la enfermera


el/la obstetra


el oncólogo, la oncónloga


el oftalmólogo, la oftalmóloga


el/la ortopedista


el osteópata


el patólogo, la patóloga


el/la pediatra


el farmacéutico, la farmacéutica

Physical therapist

el/la fisioterapeuta


el médico, la médica


el/la proctólogo


el/la psiquiatra


el psicólogo, la psicóloga


el radiólogo, la radióloga


el especialista, la especialista


el terapeuta, la terapeuta


el urólogo, la uróloga

X-ray technician

el/la técnico de radiografía


This is only a small sample of the medical terms you’ll need to know to be an efficient Spanish medical interpreter. To learn more about medical vocabulary and protocols and procedures for the job, take one of our courses.

Once you learn to translate vocabulary, you’ll use it in a variety of ways. On a typical day, your translation responsibilities might include:

  • Sit down with a patient and her doctor, translate the doctor’s diagnosis and instructions, and help the patient understand what they need to do next, what medications they need, why, and how to take them.
  • Ask patients questions about their complaint, their medical history, and what led to their visit to the doctor or hospital. You may need to ask a lot of questions to get detailed answers. 
  • Provide a written transcript in English for the doctor.
  • Translate the doctor’s orders from English to Spanish and go over the paperwork with the patient.
  • Communicate information to the patient’s family.
  • Enter accurate medical coding to the patient’s record. 
  • Make follow up calls to discharged patients to go over test results or make a new appointment. 
  • Transcribe recorded doctor’s notes and translate to Spanish for the patients and their families.
  • Help patients fill out forms.
  • Comfort a grieving family or a nervous patient.
  • Explain complicated medical procedures and courses of treatment.
  • Explain cultural issues that the medical staff may not be familiar to the medical staff.

spanish medical terms for hospital interpreters

Medical Spanish Interpreting Continuing Education

Most Spanish medical interpreter jobs require certification from one of the credential organizations:  IMIA -International Medical Interpreters Association, CCHI -Certification Commission For Healthcare Interpreters, and/or CHIA -California Health Care Association. 


If you’re a medical professional who wants to expand your skills to beef up your resume and earn a promotion or find another job, continuing education will help you get there. Start with one of our educational courses that prepare you to pass the written and oral exams necessary to earn national certification. 


We offer two levels of certification for Spanish medical interpreters. The 60 Hour Certificate Course is continuing education for medical professionals who want to add certification or get recertified

If you have at least 3 years of experience and extensive knowledge of medical language and procedures, or if you were certified in the past and need to recertify, the 60 hour certificate course is made for you. This course will serve as a refresher and help you expand your skills. 

Our 60 hour certificate course will help you polish your skills for credentialing to be in compliance with OCR regulations. National credentials will also help you add another highly marketable skill to your resume. 

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If you’re bilingual with a high school education or a bachelor’s degree our 160 Hour Medical Interpreting Diploma Course is designed to help you earn certification to get a job as a medical interpreter.

Our 160 hour diploma course will teach you all the skills and knowledge needed for a career in medical interpretation, including Medical Terminology, Anatomy and Physiology, and extensive training in healthcare field protocols, standards of practice, ethics, and medical coding.

Best Spanish Books, Dictionaries, and Resources for Medical Interpreters

Even if your language skills are excellent in both English and Spanish, you may encounter unfamiliar words or phrases, or a dialect different from what you’re familiar with. It’s handy to have a medical translation app for such situations. 

Useful Spanish Interpreter Apps:

  • Canopy Speak - an app designed to enable clinicians to communicate freely with Limited-English Proficiency(LEP) patients for common, straightforward, routine communication.
  • MediBabble - Free medical interpretation app for healthcare providers. MediBabble is a history-taking and physical exam application designed to improve the safety, efficiency, and quality of care for non-English speaking patients. 
  • Universal Doctor Speaker - a multilingual app providing key medical phrases translated across 17 languages with audios to facilitate communication between patients and healthcare professionals who don't share a common language.
  • Stat Spanish™ is an efficient translation resource, not an english-spanish dictionary, it includes the context-oriented, commonly used, words and phrases needed in the medical office and hospital settings.


Spanish Interpreting Books & Dictionaries:


Free Online Resources:

Get The Guide On Becoming A Medical Interpreter!