Faculty Members Collaborate to Help Student Nurses Understand Language Barriers

October 25, 2017 at 10:11 am

It was a health care nightmare: A host of English-speaking patients were trying to explain their various symptoms to Spanish-speaking caregivers, which could create life-threatening situations in a real world setting.

In this case, however, it was a simulation carried out to ensure nursing graduates from the University of South Carolina Upstate will be better prepared to handle language and cultural barriers when helping their real world patients.

The one-day workshop, titled “Working with Spanish-Speaking Patients: Communicating within Linguistically Diverse Health Care Environments,” is the brainchild of Dr. Warren Bareiss, an associate professor of communication at USC Upstate and coordinator of the University’s health communication minor. In the simulation, between 60-65 first-year nursing students were the English-speaking patients, and a mix of Spanish-speaking students, faculty members and community volunteers were asked to assume the roles of health care professionals.

“This is designed to help nursing students learn how to work with patients who don’t speak English,” Bareiss said. “We’re putting them in a position of not being able to [use] English so that they would understand what it’s like as a patient to not be able to clearly express themselves to a doctor or a nurse without the help of a qualified instructor.”

“This means that four different fields of study working together, and that, for me, in some ways is the most exciting part,” Bareiss said. “I’ve never worked with most of these people before, but we all have the same interest in public health.”

In addition to the simulation, the nursing students attended a lecture about communications, and at the end, the group discussed the simulation.

During the simulation, the students were divided into small groups and were exposed to different scenarios. While one group had only an English-speaking patient and a Spanish-speaking caregiver, another group might be working with an interpreter via a remote hookup, while a third group had the opportunity to work with an interpreter present in the room.

“We wanted to give them a little empathy training for the feeling of not being able to use their own language – English – in a health care scenario,” said Jackson, the senior instructor of Spanish. “We also wanted them to look at [the experience] from the side of ‘wow, I’m going to need an interpreter,’ so they’d know the best way to utilize them.”

Bareiss hopes to alternate future workshops between American Sign Language and Spanish.

“The goal is to break down some of the barriers between patient and health care providers along linguistic and cultural lines,” he said.