As immigration rises and a nursing shortage looms, so does the demand for bilingual healthcare workers, especially Spanish-speaking nurses. According to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data, 55 million people of Hispanic origin are living in the United States—that’s about 17% of the nation’s population. At least 38 million of them are still speaking Spanish in the home and know little or no English. Only 2 percent of all U.S. registered nurses are Hispanic or Latino. The percentage of Spanish-speaking non-Hispanic/Latino nurses is higher, yet those who understand the finer nuances of the language and possess greater cultural insights are in short supply—which makes finding a job as a bilingual nurse a hot prospect.
The bottom line: If you are studying to be a nurse or have considered pursuing a nursing career and are fluent in Spanish and English, by way of schooling or your cultural background, employment opportunities await (and beseech) you. If you decide to go this route, here’s what you need to know.
Greater Earnings Potential is Within Reach, but You Might Need to “Speak Up”
Speaking Spanish does not guarantee you a higher salary, but it does put you in a better position to ask for one, especially if you are working in an area where the patient base is drawn heavily from the Hispanic community. Here’s why:
Hospitals struggle to provide interpreters for patients who do not speak English.
In a critical care situation, the lack of an interpreter can throw an already frightened patient into a state of panic plus increase the incidence of medical mishaps. These patients are unable to report or describe symptoms, give their medical history, or provide other vital details such as current medications and conditions that can determine diagnosis and treatment.
When an interpreter is not around from the get-go, family members often rely on their English-speaking relatives to communicate for them—which can lead to potentially dangerous results.
For example, imagine a twelve year old girl in the exam room trying to explain a series of gynecologic terms and procedures to her mother. Or an adult son attempting to summarize his father’s medical history and the circumstances surrounding his illness. The truth is, only patients can narrate their own experiences and it is a primary duty of all health workers to make sure they can listen to patients directly in order to fully assess the extent of their illness or physical condition.
Not all interpreters are equal.
Many might be well-trained and do a great job speaking on behalf of patients and the medical team. Some might have a knack for the Spanish language as well as a great appreciation and understanding of the Hispanic or Latino culture. Others are inadequate; they omit words, add words, substitute the wrong word, and even make up terms (such as calling an ear an “ear-o” instead of an “oreja”). These errors have potential clinical consequences.
In terms of time-cost efficiencies, hospitals are far better off hiring a bilingual nurse than waiting hours for a contracted or staff interpreter to show up.
Of note is that health care providers who accept federal money must provide interpreters for patients who can’t speak English. But the law doesn’t compel the government or insurers to pay for that, so these institutions may not receive adequate or in some cases any reimbursement.
Patients feel more comfortable if they can immediately talk to and connect with a medical worker.
Many experienced interpreters can do a good job handling cross-cultural communication, but when it comes to medical ethics, bedside manner, and empathy many of them cannot take the place of a compassionate well-educated nurse who speaks the patient’s language and also understands their culture. For instance, Hispanics and Latinos consider it extremely important to have friends and family by their bedside. A healthcare worker who does not understand this and urges “familia” and “comrades” out of the ER or exam room could be compromising the integrity of patient care. Spanish-speaking nurses readily on board also help patients understand medical terminology, explain medical procedures and treatment, clarify any legal documents, simplify prescription instructions, and give step by step at-home care instructions.
Be Sure to Emphasize Your Bilingual Skills to Potential Employers
As a bilingual nurse serving the Spanish-speaking population, you have the ability to do an extraordinary amount of good for hospitals, clinics, and ambulatory care facilities nationwide. You can save lives, enhance patient comfort, reduce medical errors, and help contain costs. Your talent for speaking a foreign language (and the benefits that skill provides) should be heavily emphasized on your resume and discussed during job interviews—at which time you can offer to demonstrate your bilingualism on the spot. If you want to command slightly more pay than your English-only peers it’s a good idea to take courses in cross-cultural nursing. A number of programs are available through the International Medical Interpreters Association. And, if your affinity for foreign languages extends beyond Spanish, a career in travel nursing can open up more opportunities stateside and abroad.
Whether you are looking for tips on how to handle challenges in the workplace or want to pursue your career options, rely on BOS Medical. Our nursing and healthcare staffing recruiters go above and beyond to match each of our candidates to the right job. Contact BOS Medical today to find your next opportunity.