gives them an idea of what their pulmonary makeup is like,” Bradley said. She also sees patients who have been diagnosed with

cancer and explains the purpose of an advance direc- tive. Bradley also can explain to the healthcare team patients’ desire to go home before initiating treatment. When they go home, patients typically seek out a

“hand trembler” who will use rituals to diagnose the condition and tell them what type of healing ceremony is needed. Ten the patient will find a shaman who can perform that specific ceremony, Bradley said. “Doctors are sometimes surprised by this,” she said.

38 million people

speak Spanish in the U.S.— the most common language other than

English by far. The second and third most common languages are Chinese with 3 million people and Tagalog with 1.6 million.

“I can explain why they want to try traditional medicine and par- ticipate in ceremonies.”

Growing the bilingual workforce Paula Schipiour, MSN, RN, associate director of the Chicago Bilin-

gual Nurse Consortium, is working to bridge the language barrier gap in healthcare. The nonprofit organization helps internation- ally educated nurses obtain their nursing licenses in the U.S. The majority of the nurses who join the consortium speak Spanish, but there are others who speak languages such as Polish, Chinese, Serbian, Persian, Filipino and Korean. “There is an incredible demand for nurses who are bilingual,”

Schipiour said. “Here in the Chicago area we get calls from many hospitals that are looking to fill positions with nurses who can communicate with patients who aren’t proficient in English.” The consortium helps foreign-born nurses move through the

process of becoming licensed, which includes classes to help them become proficient in English and prepare for the NCLEX exam. The organization, which was founded in 2002, has helped more than 700 nurses representing 60 countries earn RN licensure in the U.S. Tese nurses understand the financial and cultural challenges that

come with moving to a new country, which allows them to better relate to their patients. Tey also notice the nonverbal cues and subtle signs that a phone or iPad translator may not be able to pick up, said Schipiour. “It is highly preferable to have a caregiver who understands the

patient’s language,” she said. “When people have multiple questions or are afraid to ask questions, they are much more willing to talk to someone who understands. It’s a safety issue.” This safety issue was highlighted in a study published in 2007

in the International Journal for Quality in Health Care. The data showed that 49% of LEP patients who had adverse events expe- rienced physical harm (any impact on their physiological or me- chanical health as a result of healthcare error or systems failure), compared with only 29% of English-speaking patients. The Bilingual Nursing Fellowship Program at South Mountain

Community College in Arizona is using another approach to add bilingual nurses to the workforce. The program supports bilin- gual students fluent in Spanish who are at risk of dropping out of nursing school.

“Many students do not have the support to manage school, family

and work,” said Loida Gutierrez, coordinator of the program. “We make sure students have academic support by providing qualified tutors, keeping track of their progress in classes and pairing them with a mentor who is an RN.” Roughly 50 students are in a cohort, and they can take classes

together. “We find that students who are in a cohort rather than on their own have a higher chance of finishing nursing school,” Gutierrez said. “The support they receive encourages them, and in some cases has been the determining factor in their decision to finish school.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 38 million

people speak Spanish in the U.S. — the most common language other than English by far. The second and third most common languages are Chinese with 3 million people and Tagalog with 1.6 million. Kathlene Wilson, a nurse recruiter, sees the preponderance of Spanish speakers reflected in the staffing needs of hospitals. “Certain parts of Florida, Texas and Arizona look for bilingual

nurses who speak Spanish,” said Wilson, president of Wilson Staff- ing Network based in Houston. “The need is not just in hospitals, but also in places like community clinics and blood donation centers where translation services are not available.”

Looking ahead The minority population is projected to rise to 50% of the total

population by 2060 — compared with roughly 40% now, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nurses like Schipiour say these statistics bode well today and in the future for members of the profession who are fluent in two languages. “I had a nurse from Chile who spoke Spanish fluently and moved

to Tennessee,” she said. “She applied for three positions and was accepted for all three. Employers seem to jump at the opportunity to hire these bilingual RNs.” •

Heather Stringer is a freelance writer. TO COMMENT, email

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