Bilingual nurses knock down language, cultural barriers


Advocates say healthcare leaders should invest in bilingual nursing staff to improve patient safety and better prepare their organizations to meet each patient’s needs.

Nearly 62 million U.S. residents speak a language other than English, and for patients with limited English proficiency, safety risks are particularly high.

Bilingual nurses who speak Spanish are especially necessary, according to 

To illustrate the need, the article points to Lauren Micale, R.N., of Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Delaware. While talking in Spanish to the mother of a bone marrow transplant patient, the woman mentioned a symptom that was never brought up earlier because of the language barrier. The symptom was an indicator of a serious issue that was quickly addressed.

Bilingual nursing staff could also help the healthcare industry’s problems with care delivery to Native American patients, according to the article. Ida Bradley, R.N., a nurse of Navajo descent, now works at Shiprock, New Mexico’s Northern Navajo Medical Center. Many elderly patients speak only Navajo and Bradley’s ability to converse in the language gives her a unique understanding of how to communicate medical plans and conditions in a way that native speakers will understand, according to the article.

In the Chicago area, different ethnic and language groups have led to the creation of the Chicago Bilingual Nurse Consortium. The group aids foreign-born nurses in the licensing process and helps them learn English, providing the healthcare industry with nurses who understand both foreign languages, as well as the cultural and financial challenges associated with language barriers.