Communication is essential in healthcare. If you’re a nurse, your most valuable source of information about your patients is the patients themselves. Patients communicate what their symptoms are, what levels of pain they’re feeling, and how you can potentially help. If a patient can’t communicate with healthcare workers, and that’s a huge problem. Language barriers are always troublesome, but especially in healthcare where someone’s life or health could be at risk from miscommunication. Fortunately, there’s a solution: Bilingual healthcare workers. If you speak more than one language, you could very well save a life with your communication skills.
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Unsurprisingly, the most in-demand non-English language in the U.S. is Spanish. Approximately 41 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish as their native language, and about 11 million of those people are bilingual. (Incidentally, this makes the U.S. the second-largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico.)
If you’re one of the 11 million Americans lucky enough to speak English and Spanish as twin native tongues, you have a huge advantage in healthcare. You’ll be the one who talks to patients and solves the problems many of your coworkers can’t. Even if your colleagues know enough Spanish to get by, there’s nothing like a native speaker to communicate seamlessly and put patients at ease.
Spanish, though, is not the only in-demand language in the United States. Millions of people in the U.S. speak a language other than English. If you speak Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Tagalog, or Vietnamese, you’re also in demand.
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Language skills are a strong addition to any resume, especially in healthcare. Being bilingual will make you a stronger candidate for nursing jobs and help you get better placement than you otherwise would. If you want to work in a region, area, or specialty that needs your skills, you probably can. You might also be able to negotiate higher pay because of your language skills.
This is also more cost-effective for the hospital. Having bilingual staff is generally more efficient than using a translation service or contractors, and it will allow the hospital to appeal to a larger population than it otherwise would. You might make more money as a bilingual healthcare worker and you could potentially save your employer money on translation. It’s a win-win for you both!
This applies to several fields of healthcare, by the way. Bilingual occupational therapy assistants can serve clients from more backgrounds, and that can be especially advantageous given how closely OTAs sometimes work with their clients. Bilingual medical assistants can serve as the face of a clinic or hospital for patients with whom they share a language. And bilingual nurses can provide better healthcare with two languages than they could with one.
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Being bilingual isn’t just about communicating literal information to patients. It’s also about making them feel at ease and cared for, and bilingual healthcare workers can also provide hospitals with additional cultural context when providing care for patients from diverse backgrounds. This example of culturally-appropriate care, for instance, describes how a nurse fluent in Mandarin was able to discern that a Chinese patient preferred hot drinking water with her medication, rather than cold.
That’s a small thing, but those small, culturally-specific examples can go a long way to building patient trust and understanding. Without that, providing quality care is much more difficult. Bilingual healthcare workers can be a bridge across the language gap and ensure everyone has access to quality care, regardless of their native language.