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I am a student nurse in Bahrain, a home to people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Although Bahrain’s native language is Arabic, due to its cultural and ethnic diversity there are other dominant languages like English, Urdu, Indian, and Farsi.
Chances for poor or miscommunication increase when the patient and nurse don’t share the same language.
Currently, I can speak three languages – English, Arabic and Turkish. I’m working on my German and Russian skills. However, I still face some challenges as I don’t share the same language as all my patients, but I have planned ways to overcome it.
For example, when I was assigned to a patient who only spoke Indian, I decided to learn the basics in order to communicate with her, and supplement this with facial expressions and body language.
I also tried to learn from nurses who shared the same language to minimise the effect of the language barrier. When I used my patient’s native language, I will never forget how happy the patient was.
“Being in a vulnerable situation, in an unfamiliar environment and unable to communicate your needs can be very frustrating and stressful for patients”
Based on my observations and experience during my clinical practice, I felt like language barriers between nurses and patients is something that needs to be addressed, as it is not receiving much attention.
Patients with limited English proficiency (LEP) struggled to express stress, symptoms, and needs to some nurses, when both sides do not share the same language. Where necessary I use an interpreter as this seemed to strengthen the patient’s trust and satisfaction.
Being in a vulnerable situation, in an unfamiliar environment and unable to communicate your needs can be very frustrating and stressful for patients.
I realised that the patient’s major source of stress is not understanding procedures or treatments properly. Once I explained and answered any doubts they had in their own language (with my mentor’s supervision), their fears and stress reduced greatly. This alone motivated me to expand my medical terminologies in both Arabic and English.
I started reading extra information about the common conditions, procedures and medications, which my mentor graciously provided, anything related to the current ward I’m in.
Although it is preferable and advised to use a professional interpreter, using a student nurse if a professional interpreter wasn’t available would be better than using a patient’s relative.
It has been suggested that family members should only be used as interpreters in extenuating circumstances, for example an immediate threat to life. This is because family members, especially if they are under 18 years old, can increase the risk of mistranslating information and medical errors. Furthermore, a family member may not feel comfortable conveying some sensitive types of information to the patient, such as terminal diagnosis.
To support the previous statement, a study found that using informal and non-professional interpreters (mostly university students) but still unknown to the participant/patient did a better job than using their relatives, as relatives seemed to filter and withhold information from the patients due to the sensitive and emotional topic (even though the interpreters used were also found to sometimes filter the information).
As a student nurse, I have a goal that I want to achieve. Learn as much as I can, use every opportunity provided to gain experience and ensure providing high-quality holistic care as expected. Bridging the language barrier enables nurses to meet their patients’ needs.
With that being said, I would like to encourage nurses to learn a second dominant language and get certified for it as it will be very beneficial and time saving.
Squires (2018) encouraged professional staff members who speak other languages fluently to get certified for their skills and obtain medical interpreter training. This step helps to bridge the language barrier and reduce the risk of its adverse outcomes.
Abeer Al Noaimi is a second-year nursing student, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland – Bahrain