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Multilingual healthcare professionals keep our hospitals, surgeries, and doctor’s offices running. They provide a vital service to the millions of people who prefer to speak in a language other than English and can make a critical difference in a high-pressure environment where communication is key.

Without professional language support, patients are less likely to receive the level of care they need, and misunderstandings can have disastrous effects on the effectiveness of the patient’s treatment.

Here are a few of the important ways multilingual doctors, nurses, dentists, and midwives contribute to the healthcare industry.

Multilingual Healthcare for Elderly Patients

Many older migrants do not speak the official language of their host country. This means that elderly populations — who typically require a greater level of care than younger peers — face a significant communication barrier when attempting to access healthcare.

Elderly patients are also more likely to speak in uncommon dialects. To accommodate for these differences in dialect, translation services must go beyond a word-to-word translation and must seek to interpret meaning so patients can fully grasp the situation — this requires well-trained, multilingual healthcare professionals.

medical doctor holding syringe, multilingual healthcare workers

When patients can speak to healthcare workers in their own languages, they feel more comfortable with their treatment.

Multilingual healthcare workers do more than translate — they also understand cultural differences. This is important for patients from other countries, as many folks who move to the US may be confused by the healthcare system. Professionally trained multilingual healthcare workers can explain the differences between services like urgent care centers and the ER to ensure that patients get the help they need.

Currently, there are not enough multilingual healthcare professionals to serve patients. This means that family members and bilingual staff are used in short-notice situations. However, the healthcare industry understands the need for multilingual workers and is pivoting towards greater utilization of professional medical interpreters who can communicate clearly with elderly patients.

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Community Outreach

The recent Covid-19 pandemic has transformed our understanding of public health initiatives. Over the past year and a half, we have learned the value of effective medical messaging, and have seen the positive impact of community outreach. Multilingual healthcare workers have been vital to these efforts, and have played a critical role in communities where English is not the first language.

Most medical information is geared towards native English-speaking adults. This means that medical articles and videos can create confusion among multilingual communities. Recently, experts have attempted to combat this confusion by creating multilingual medical materials and have engaged in community outreach programs that utilize multilingual healthcare workers who can connect with audiences across multiple languages.

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Increasingly effective translation services have also helped community outreach efforts. These translation services utilize libraries of multilingual data and AI to translate medical professionals’ language. They also give speakers the chance to edit their sentences for more accurate translation. This process means that accurate communication is completed quickly, and ensures that all parties are on the same page.

Multilingual healthcare professionals help build trust in their communities and can spread vital messaging during public health crises. They also ensure that future generations understand medical materials, all while providing a vital medical service.

multilingual doctor holding red stethoscope

Being able to speak a foreign language or languages is a huge asset to any healthcare professional.

Language Classes

Medical professionals who are keen to develop multilingual skills can find a host of resources and classes ready to support them. Many hospitals will subsidize language programs and may give bursaries to those who are looking to further their education.

Healthcare workers who do gain multilingual skills can expect to learn more than the basic language. Translation classes and services also teach students to overcome cross-cultural communication barriers and will learn skills like:

  • Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication: Effective communication goes beyond word-for-word translations. Appropriate tone, physical gestures, eye contact, and colloquialisms will help healthcare professionals relate to their patient’s cultural backgrounds
  • Non-Verbal Cues: Multilingual healthcare workers should be able to pick up on non-verbal cues that indicate increased anxiety or confusion in patients.
  • Acknowledge Difference: Sometimes cultural differences form a significant barrier to effective healthcare. If healthcare workers are aware of these cultural differences, they can help patients navigate advice and can improve the efficacy of treatment.

Language classes go beyond comprehension. Healthcare workers who authentically attempt to become multilingual will learn how to deliver medical advice, can pick up on small behavioral cues, and can resolve misunderstandings that stem from cultural differences.

multilingual healthcare workers, medical device

A visit to the hospital can be traumatic and bewildering even for someone who speaks the same language as the majority. It can be even more difficult for someone who has a hard time understanding the doctors and nurses.

Global Collaboration

Many of our healthcare issues are global, and will only be solved if we can collaborate across language barriers. Healthcare workers often experience public health crises firsthand and can play a vital role in ensuring that local and national governments understand the issues faced by the healthcare industry.

Multilingual healthcare workers are also well-positioned to leverage their experiences to global audiences. They have seen the impact of crises like climate change and can testify to the impact it has on patients. This will be vital in the coming years, as global collaboration will be necessary to successfully navigate public health crises.

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Multilingual healthcare workers make vital contributions to the healthcare industry. They ensure non-native English speakers receive an equitable level of care, can help patients navigate cultural differences, and play a critical role in supporting global health efforts. Multilingual healthcare professionals can also support the development of future translation technology, all while making a world of difference to patients and their communities.

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