The Demand for Bilingual Nurses and Their Impact

Over the last decade, the U.S. has become more diverse. With this trend has come a growing demand for bilingual nurses. Nurses who are fluent in at least two languages can help reduce health disparities, enhance patient outcomes, and bridge gaps in communication.

Data from the 2020 American Community Survey, an analysis from the U.S. Census Bureau, indicated that 21% of the U.S. population speaks languages other than English at home. This growing language diversity is reflected in patient populations and has increased the demand for bilingual nurses.

Having bilingual nurses supports diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and person-centered care. However, nurses may face some challenges when providing care for and communicating with patients who have limited proficiency in English. Without addressing these hurdles, miscommunication, lower quality of care, and declined patient satisfaction and outcomes can occur.

In a study on language barriers in nursing, nurses indicated that challenges in communication hindered their ability to provide “adequate, appropriate, effective, and timely care to patients with limited English proficiency.”

Georgina Villarreal, MSN, RN, a bilingual nurse with seven years of nursing experience in medical-surgical oncology, telemetry, and travel nursing, described the disconnect that occurs when healthcare professionals don’t speak their patients’ native language.

“There have been a lot of occurrences where I’ve seen nurses and doctors talk to patients — not in their native language — and things get missed,” she said. These instances can lead to patients acting as if they understand when they don’t, she added. Bilingual nurses can improve clarity in situations like these.

Overcoming barriers

Language assistance is not just a nice-to-have service, however. “Healthcare facilities are required by regulatory agencies to provide language services that will help ensure access to quality care no matter which language the patient speaks,” said Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, in a blog on language barriers.

“The intent of the regulations is that the interpretation and translation methods used support effective communication between patients and care providers and are effective in a variety of care situations. Simply put, the services must meet the patient’s needs,” she said.

Interpreter services — in person, by phone, or online — are valuable tools in healthcare. However, healthcare organizations can encounter challenges with accessibility and usability, such as when a unit has only one interpreter available. This limits access for other patients if the aid is in use. When this occurs, nurses must try to provide effective communication, so the patient is informed and understood.

Bilingual nurses can bridge communication gaps and help overcome language barriers between the care team and patients. However, bilingual nursing staff face challenges of their own. When interpreter services are unavailable, they may struggle to balance their own workload with requests to interpret for colleagues and other healthcare staff.

Villarreal, who speaks Spanish and English, stated that she assists her colleagues by translating for patients.

“There are just not enough bilingual nurses in the hospital,” she said. “So being the only bilingual nurse on a unit, I get pulled into every single room …read more

Read full article here: