Bilingual nurses improve patient safety

Nurse Leader Insider, November 3, 2016

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Recent studies have shown that unaddressed language barriers can lead to unsafe, low-quality healthcare, and with 21% of the U.S. population speaking a language other than English in the home according to the 2013 census, language barriers can affect a significant part of the patient population.

As it turns out, a flexible and diverse nursing staff can have a significant impact on this issue. Frontline nurses often serve as patient advocate and have the most patient contact, so nurses with the ability to communicate with patients in the language with which they are most comfortable is a huge asset. Communicating clearly about diagnoses and procedures can help put the patient’s mind at ease, and discussing symptoms can prevent misdiagnosis. Lauren Micale, BSN, RN, CPHON, a bone marrow transplant coordinator at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children, spoke with a mother about her son’s bone marrow transplant in Spanish; the mother mentioned seeing blood in the stool, a symptom that was not mentioned previously due to a language barrier. Micale reported the new symptom immediately, which prevented a potentially fatal event for the patient.

Because of these benefits, organizations around the country are working to meet the demands of an increasingly multi-lingual population. The Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium is a nonprofit organization that is helping internationally-educated nurses get their nursing licenses to work in the U.S. The group hopes that having nurses that understand the financial and cultural challenges that come with immigrating will allow them to better relate to their patients. The Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program at South Mountain Community College in Arizona focuses on supporting bilingual nursing students that are at risk of dropping out. They provide tutors and mentors for these students to help them manage their work-life balance and succeed in their academic pursuits.

If these potential bilingual nurses are able to hit the job market, they will find themselves in high demand. As one nurse manager reports, employers know that bilingual caregivers can help their facility, and they will jump at the chance to hire bilingual RNs.

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