Benefits of Bilingualism in Healthcare

The UK is one of the most diverse nations in Europe, and cities like London are home to more than 250 languages. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the nation’s healthcare industry is carried on the shoulders of immigrants from around the globe. In fact, following his recovery from COVID-19, British PM Boris Johnson praised the nurses who helped save his life, taking care to point out that they were migrants.

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Bilingualism is particularly important for individuals in the healthcare industry—from doctors who need to communicate clearly with patients in English, to pharmacists who might require other language skills to serve their local community. In this article, we examine why this is the case and why industry leaders should consider investing more than ever before in language learning.


When one isn’t enough

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It’s long been the case that countries like the United Kingdom rely heavily on migrant healthcare workers. An estimated 28% of doctors currently working in the UK are foreign-born, and many receive their medical training abroad, too. While this might make for an incredibly diverse healthcare system, where many doctors, nurses and other professionals are able to speak at least one other language, bilingualism isn’t always enough.


Healthcare workers see a lot of patients from different backgrounds, and it’s impossible to be able to communicate with everyone in their native tongue. This is where trained medical interpreters come in. Even when doctors are fluent in the language of their patients, it may prove difficult to translate medical acronyms or understand subtle but important cultural nuances — especially in emergency situations. A multilingual medical interpreter can smooth the way toward seamless communication and create better experiences for doctors and patients, alike.


Going the extra mile

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Of course, there are always scenarios in which a healthcare professional might not have access to an interpreter, or the time to call one, so what is the solution in these cases? Some argue that learning another language should be a requirement for individuals who plan on joining the healthcare sector in multicultural cities and countries.


Choosing a language to focus on should not be difficult. For example, after English and indigenous languages, Polish, Punjabi and Urdu are the most spoken languages in the UK. However, the populations that speak these languages (and others) tend to congregate in different cities and councils around the country, so healthcare workers should research the language skills most in need in their area before committing to a course.


Accepting the facts of life


Perhaps one of the most important actions healthcare professionals need to take is to accept that we live in a globalised world. People are moving around now more than ever and relying on a single language simply isn’t feasible anymore. We need to identify the main languages spoken in our communities and adjust accordingly. This will ease the process of hiring medical interpreters with the proper skills, and also narrow down the focus for other healthcare professionals who want to study a new language.


Putting proper protocols in place—such as specific interpreters on call, and information on websites and social media in multiple languages—is also vital in the face of sudden disasters. The world was shocked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and often after a disaster strikes, it’s difficult to find the time to learn a language or hire the appropriate healthcare professionals. Being pre-emptive with language skills is key.


Learning a new language can provide you with valuable skills which will put you in high demand in almost any industry, not just the medical field. Our native-speaking tutors can create tailor-made programmes to suit your specific goals and language level, so contact us to find out more about our online courses.