The Importance of Bilingual Speakers in Healthcare


According to 2019 data from the United States Census Bureau, over 60 million Hispanics live in the U.S., comprising between 15 and 20% of the nation’s total population. Spanish, behind English, is the second most widely spoken language in the United States, and that’s only expected to increase by 2050 when America just could become the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. The percentage of Asian immigrants is also up, and those who come from Chinese, Korean, or Japanese backgrounds may face extra struggles when it comes to learning English.

For those learning a new language or bilingual, you may not be aware that your language abilities can open up all kinds of doors when it comes to your career. Healthcare is a field in which communication is especially important, and oftentimes, patients don’t receive the care they need due to language barriers. If you’re in the nursing field or considering a healthcare career, let’s learn more about how language skills can make a huge difference in the field.

Healthcare in America’s Melting Pot

Providing top-notch patient care has become increasingly difficult over the past year, as physicians and healthcare workers battle the impacts of COVID-19 amidst the ongoing United States physician shortage.

Because nearly a third of current American physicians are expected to reach retirement age within the next decade, family nurse practitioners and other healthcare workers will likely have to step up to fill in the gaps. Additionally, the growing Spanish-speaking population means bilingual English-Spanish healthcare workers are high in demand.

Not only do bilingual nurses remove the need for interpretation, saving hospitals money and time, they also increase diagnosis and treatment accuracy. There’s no danger of misinterpretation or miscommunication when it comes to medical symptoms, meaning bilingual healthcare providers are essential in providing equal access to high-level care.

Putting Patients at Ease

Many Americans are hesitant or nervous to go to the doctor, and these fears only amplify for patients who must conduct appointments in their second language. Some patients even have a traumatic history with medical providers, while others have experienced sexual assault or other occurrences that make them uncomfortable in a foreign medical environment.

To soothe their concerns, some women patients prefer female doctors, depending on the situation. Although both female and male physicians have the same competencies and capacities for sensitivity, when it comes to some treatment areas, like gynecology, female bilingual women can put patients at ease.

Although many, if not all, of these gender biases are based on societal expectations, for patients who feel like a fish out of water at the doctor’s office, receiving care from a fellow woman can make all the difference in terms of relieving tension and encouraging patient compliance.

Additional Workplace Benefits of Bilingualism

However, the benefits of bilingualism don’t stop there. In today’s global world, companies need bilingual employees to help expand their client base while providing excellent customer interactions. Hourly earnings for bilingual employees can even be around 5 to 20% more than that of their monolingual counterparts. Learning a second language makes you a better job applicant overall, increasing your workplace leverage and diversifying your job opportunities.

Because bilingual doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are so high in demand, many job openings will specify the need for bilingualism as a job requirement. Even if it’s not a requirement, having bilingualism on your resume shows your ability to adapt and constantly learn, which will help you stand out to potential employers, even if you’re up against more technically qualified candidates.

In addition, you may find that your access to job opportunities expands when you speak another language, as you’re no longer tied to one geographic location. You may even decide to work as a travel nurse or military nurse in America or abroad to engage with your target language more frequently. States like California and Texas also have a heightened need for bilingual healthcare workers due to their large Spanish-speaking populations.

If you feel it’s time for a change of pace, you can use your foreign language skills to boost your career prospects. A wide array of jobs prize multilingual staff, meaning you could find work in hospitality, as a translator or interpreter, or even in finance and marketing. Employers recognize that knowing a foreign language sets you apart from the crowd and demonstrates your ability to tap into a new market. Foreign languages even serve to boost your college resume, if you’re looking to go back to school.

The Future of Bilingualism in Healthcare

No matter what your goals are when it comes to foreign language learning and bilingualism,  there’s no denying that bilingual speakers play an especially important role in American healthcare today.

Statistics show that just over 20% of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home. That’s already twice the 1980 percentage and is only expected to grow in the years to come. For healthcare systems to provide equal access to high-quality care, bilingual workers are necessary to bridge the communication gap, put patients at ease, and advance the field of healthcare as a whole.