The Need for Bilingual Nurses

NursingSeptember 25, 2020

Imagine that you are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country and become ill. In addition to being concerned about finding a doctor or getting treatment, you may be worried about overcoming a language barrier. How would you communicate with doctors? Would you be able to understand the instructions they have for you?

This scenario is a reality for many people living in New York today. New York City is the quintessential melting pot. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 800 languages are spoken here and just 51 percent of New Yorkers speak only English at home, according to recent data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey with about 25 percent of the metro area’s population (1.87 million people) composed up of Spanish speakers.  

Communication is at the Heart of Healthcare

The Affordable Care Act requires hospitals to take reasonable steps to provide an interpreter to non-English-speaking patients. While this can be by phone or video call, having healthcare providers onsite who speak more than one language is ideal, which is why there is a growing demand for bilingual nurses.

While Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken in the U.S., it is not the only one and is followed by Chinese, French and German, according to the Census Bureau. And it’s important to know that many of these individuals may have limited proficiency in speaking English. Nurses who speak these languages—or any of the hundreds of others spoken throughout the country—can help doctors, patients and their caregivers connect.

Communication is key for educating patients on procedures, getting consent and helping patients understand their discharge instructions. It also reduces the risk of complications or infection later, which is more likely to happen if the patient and their caregivers do not fully understand how to manage their condition or medications when they go home.

Benefits for Patients

Bilingual family members can often step-in and help bridge the language barrier but having a bilingual nurse present is invaluable especially when a non-English-speaking patient comes in alone.  Having a bilingual (or multilingual) nurse helps ensure that the patient receives complete and objective information about their treatment plan. This also reduces the risk of misinformation due to a family member’s duress, misunderstanding or subjective point of view. With appropriate translation available, an alert patient will feel more comfortable asking questions, and can then make informed decisions about their care.   

Bilingual nurses can be extremely helpful as they can provide care in real time, without needing to wait for an interpreter to understand the patient’s condition and medical history. This can be vital in the case of an emergency when time is of the essence. 

Patients often feel more confident about treatment when a member of the healthcare team speaks their language. They may be more comfortable sharing information that can enable a better plan of care. And nurses who have lived in other countries or come from homes in which English was not the first language often understand the apprehension and cultural challenges a non-English-speaking patient may have. 

By hiring more bilingual nurses, hospitals and healthcare facilities are doing what they can to improve care for all patients. If you speak another language and have thought about entering a nursing program, St. Paul’s School of Nursing can help. We offer programs in Staten Island and Queens that can help you get on the path to your future. Click here for more information or call us today at (855) 822-3018 and speak to one of our career counselors.