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What are Specific Advantages of Being Bilingual in Healthcare?

I'm bilingual and I understand the general usefulness of it, but I'd like a deeper insight into how being bilingual can make a positive impact in healthcare, as well as opportunities relating to it.
bilingual healthcare medicine

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P’s Answer

Being bilingual is very important to healthcare. I often have to use interpreter services because I don’t speak Spanish (and so I’m learning how to now.) I speak a few Indian languages and that has helped me tremendously.

When you are able to communicate with a patient in the language they feel most comfortable in, right away you help them feel included and that your are listening to their concerns. It helps establish trust as well.

An intangible side effect of being bilingual is that you begin to see things from a different perspective. Medicine is still far behind the eight ball when it comes to culturally aware and appropriate care. And when you’ve learned to speak another language fluently you begin to gain insight into culture (it’s not the same as being trained in culturally sensitive medicine but it’s a start.)

Even if you don’t go into healthcare, knowing other languages makes you more aware of other viewpoints than your own. It makes travel easier. It makes communicating with people here in the US easier.

Hope this helps. 😀
Thank you for the insight! Amanda K.
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Carolyn D.’s Answer

Being bilingual in healthcare offers you an opportunity to be of assistance to patients who have challenges understanding medical lingo. Medical terminology is difficult to understand even as an English speaker but can be more difficult for ESL speakers. Bilingual healthcare workers are invaluable to physicians as they can be confident that a bilingual speaker will convey the understanding of the medical terminology to the patient and know that all critical information is adequately conveyed. Second, bilingual speakers bring a level of cultural competence to the conversation that can be conveyed to a physician as a way of educating them. Financially speaking, with demographics shifting across the country, the use of your language skills may offer top dollar in in-person medical translation. This can also grow into a second career of translating written medical documents, forms and educational materials.

Carolyn D. recommends the following next steps:

Research traveling healthcare work
Research medical translation occupations
Thank you for the insight! Amanda K.
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Yasemin’s Answer

Hi Amanda! I think being bilingual is tremendously advantageous; my parents learned English later on but their main language was Turkish and therefore they always felt more comfortable with Turkish physicians and sought them out. As a volunteer in the ER myself, I once actually used my ability to speak Turkish to better connect with my patient's family; even though they spoke English, I think building that connection and just reaching out in the language they knew better made them feel more comfortable. I think being bilingual helps create a connection with a person in healthcare and make them feel more trust overall. I also think that knowing another language can open numerous doors in other areas as well especially by being able to overcome a barrier that may result from cultural differences. I also once used sign language to a customer I was serving; I will admit I took only one year of it and was very nervous but I felt happy by making them feel more comfortable and create a connection even if I was signing in simple terms. If you want to learn another language I would recommend Duolingo, currently I am learning Spanish as I want to become more efficient in it especially for my future in healthcare. I think with technology it is much easier to learn a language, as well as practicing all the time!

I hope this helps!
Best of luck!
Thank you! Those are good points. Amanda K.
You're welcome! Yasemin G.
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Dexter’s Answer

Hi Amanda,

There are wonderful answers here already, but I'd like to quickly add one opinion, which is that speaking multiple languages is amazing in that there are many words that do not have an equal in other languages.

For me, I was born in Korea and migrated to the U.S. when I was 9. What I still find fascinating is that there are tastes that are described in the Korean languages that cannot be translated to English. These tastes are present in foods found in the U.S., but there are no English words to describe it. When I talk to my parents and my brother, even if all the other words are English, when I describe that taste, I have to say it in Korean.

Now, knowing that, I am sure that there are many other words and expressions that cannot be translated or are translated poorly, without their full meaning. Given that, I think speaking multiple languages is a beautiful gift to yourself and one that can help you in any career, but especially in healthcare, given how accurately we must describe our bodies to medical professionals.

I wish you the best in 2021!

--
Dexter
Every day is a good day, and if you don't believe me, just try missing one of them. John Frick
That's true, thank you! Amanda K.
Thank you for the comments and please let me know if I can answer any other questions or clarify my answer :) Dexter Arver
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Errica’s Answer

Speaking additional languages is useful in countless careers! Healthcare and education especially because everyone needs to see a doctor for wellness or sick visits, and everyone goes through schooling.
Since everyone will need healthcare visits (primary physician/dentist/phys therapy/illness/prevention/female checkups/having a baby/etc.) they will need to have a doctor that understands what they are saying. They will also benefit from billing departments and scheduling departments also understanding what they are saying in case issues need to be reconciled.

Having someone understand what you are trying to communicate takes stress off situations, especially if you have an illness diagnosis that is stressful in its own rite.
Those are good points, thank you! Amanda K.
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Raquel’s Answer

Hi Amanda, I'm currently a nurse working in a hospital. The floor I work on gets a lot of patients who's primary language is Spanish or are Spanish speaking only. Every time I care for one of these patients I wish that I had learned to speak Spanish as a kid or in school. Being able to communicate with someone in the language they are most comfortable in makes both giving and receiving healthcare a much better experience. It is scary for everyone to be in the hospital but I can't imagine how much worse it is when you and the workers can't communicate easily. Yes we use translation services but it is a long and awkward process, you lose out on a lot of the human connection by speaking through a phone to a translator. As a nurse I play a big role in a patients care and experience while in the hospital and it is much harder to provide the high quality care that I aim for and to build a strong, trusting relationship with a patient when there is a significant language barrier. I am working on learning a few basic phrases that are commonly used in my job to be able to talk with my patients a little better. It is such a blessing to have coworkers who are Spanish speaking and are able to have meaningful interactions and conversations with patients, it makes a better experience for the patient while also letting us do our job the best we can. If you are bilingual you will be such an asset to the healthcare team no matter what position you hold. Being able to make someone comfortable and improve their experience is an amazing gift to hold. I wish you best of luck in your endeavors.
Thank you for your insight, and thank you for your service! Amanda K.
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Gloria’s Answer

Hi Amanda,

I am not been in healthcare but I am a bilingual person working in the world, so I wanted to add my thoughts about being bilingual.

The first thing that I would mention that being fluent in any language is on a spectrum. Some people who only know a small percentage of a language would be considered bilingual. For context, I consider myself to have my highest form of fluency in English. I live in the US and speak English in all my interactions in every aspect of my life. My second language is Spanish. I learned Spanish first from Puerto Rican parents. I spoke the language in the home. So my level of fluency in Spanish would be much less than my English.

While I am comfortable in many social situations, I would not be able to hold a detailed conversation in areas that have legal impacts or in the case of medical situations involving the names of medicines, for example. If you have that level of knowledge in an in-need language in the US, there is great support that you can provide. Most people coming from countries like South America are like me with Spanish, they have a rudimentary knowledge of English. That can be terrifying in a hospital or other medical setting. I believe that you would be in high demand if you have a high degree of fluency in a second language. You would need to be careful to study for your medical diploma in both languages, which is an extra burden for you. I would also say that if you perform your work in two languages, you should make sure that you get paid more than your single language counterparts. However, you proceed, fluency in medicine in two languages is a competitive advantage.

Your real challenge is how you would like to use your skill in two languages. That is only a question you can answer. People are not usually excited about interacting with medical professionals. It can bring people comfort to have someone helping them in the language of their birth work through that stressful time.

Gloria
Thank you! Amanda K.
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Miguel’s Answer

Hello Amanda, an advantage to being bilingual is the job opportunities that are available to individuals who are bilingual. From the start , being bilingual makes you more appealing as a job candidate given the need for more bilingual health professionals. In addition, being bilingual is essential if you ever desire to work/ intern/ volunteer in countries where the majority of people communicate in your secondary language.
Thank you! Amanda K.
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Josh’s Answer

Hi there,
I live in an area of Canada where being bilingual in French and English is a requirement for employment. My area has a majority of the population that speaks English, but we still have lots of people who have French as a first language. Being able to work in both languages, allows us to offer health care in the language that they can most easily understand. This helps ensure they know what to do to take care of themselves, what follow up is needed etc. Although they may understand English, they will do better if they understand what is being said.
Depending on where you live, employment may be partially based on your ability to speak a second language.
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Julia’s Answer

Amanda, there is such tremendous need for multi-lingual professionals in the healthcare industry, and we hope you will join us some day! Many of the answers above pertain to clinical roles, and this is critical. But multi-lingualism is essential in many other parts of healthcare, too.

In research, for example, we need people who can design and implement quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews that are inclusive and accurately capture the experiences and perspectives of diverse backgrounds, cultural contexts, and levels of health literacy. This could include epidemiological research into what causes certain health exposures and outcomes, and how this varies across different populations. To do this type of research effectively, we need folks who can design it in a way that accurately samples and elicits responses from the population, including many folks for whom English is not a first language. We also need better representation in clinical trials--like whether a vaccine works effectively across many different populations and health conditions--and designing research protocols to enable recruitment and successful participation of diverse patient populations makes the quality of the trials better.

We also need speakers of many languages working as public health professionals. Public health programs are more effective when delivered in a culturally appropriate way with clear and relevant language--like how to help people quit smoking, how to encourage moms to breastfeed their babies, or how people can improve their nutrition and exercise regimens, for example. All of these areas require bi-lingual professionals who can help create and deliver evidence-based programs to the people who need them.

Finally, there are many business functions in healthcare that benefit hugely from bilingualism. Health systems, drug companies, insurance companies, pharmacies, and most other healthcare businesses have marketing and public relations departments, HR departments, IT, consumer/member/patient advocacy or engagement departments, etc. Depending on the geographical focus of the organization, the language needs may differ, but any high-performing healthcare organization supports and engages both its own employees and the people it serves in the languages they feel most comfortable in. When reaching out to patients/members, the organization will be most effective if communicating with them in a language they feel most comfortable in. And when attracting, retaining, and supporting employees, the same is true--keep in mind that a significant proportion of the healthcare workforce in the U.S. was born in another country, some of whom are more comfortable in a native language that is not English.

In summary, I really can't think of an area in healthcare where bilingualism wouldn't be an advantage for you. Good luck!

Thank you for the detailed answer! Amanda K.
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Jeniffer’s Answer

Hi Amanda,

I am not in healthcare but I can give you some insight on how being bilingual saved my mom. I was born in Honduras and I came to the United States when I was 4 years old. I learned English in school but at home I always spoke Spanish. When I was 10 years old my mom got really sick at home and we had to call 911. When the ambulance arrived, nobody could talk to her because nobody spoke Spanish. I quickly stepped in and made sure I could tell the paramedics what my mom was saying. I was really scared because I just wanted them to save my mom, but I knew I had to stay calm to be able to tell them how she felt and what was going on. I rode in the ambulance with her all the way to the hospital, and when we got to the hospital we were back in the same situation. Nobody at the hospital could speak Spanish! So here I was 10 years old, translating for Doctors and Nurses to be the voice for my mom who couldn't communicate her symptoms. When the Doctors came back with results and with medical lingo that I couldn't translate, we had to get creative on how to make my mom understand she was going into surgery. Remember she is having to sign paperwork as well to allow the Doctors to do what they have to do. My mom survived her surgery and the Doctors were so grateful they were able to have me translate what was happening so they could take care of her. The Doctors told me that if I hadn't been there to translate, saving my mom would have been much harder.

I was recognized at a school assembly by the Police Department and Hospital for remaining remarkably calm and providing aid in an intense situation. THIS! -- is why being Bilingual will always make a positive impact in Healthcare. Not only will you be able to bride the gap between Doctors and Nurses who don't speak another language, but you might save somebodies LIFE!

The beauty of being Bilingual is that you are an asset to any and all industries!
That's amazing, thank you for the insight! Amanda K.
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