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Managing Employees with Foreign Accents

In many healthcare situations, patients and their families are stressed, worried, scared, overwhelmed and uncertain. Situations can be complicated by delays, poor test results and insurance issues. What if the patient or family members have a difficult time understanding a healthcare provider’s accent? In addition to making a situation more complicated, it creates a potential for miscommunication, which could cause a variety of problems. There are solutions to help managers address these issues.

Following the Law

Clear communication is important, but it’s important to be aware of the law. Before employers address employees’ accents, language abilities or levels of English fluency, they should carefully evaluate the reasons for their actions and make sure they can articulate why the … position requires a set level of English proficiency and how the employee’s language skill or accent interferes with those job duties.

In addition, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlines what constitutes harassment under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws. There are several important points, including the fact that examples of potentially unlawful conduct include insults, taunting, or ethnic epithets, such as making fun of a person’s foreign accent….

Language and Culture

Many hospitals and other healthcare agencies that employ nurses and other care providers who speak with accents have found success with including a carefully-designed communication course as an integral part of orientation. The course does not have to end when orientation ends; it can continue as long as necessary. In addition, it should go beyond the basics and include common idiomatic expressions, colloquial terms, jargon, and accents of native speakers. It can also be helpful to encourage employees in the class to watch television shows, listen to radio programs, and practice speaking the host country’s language even at home.

Two Las Vegas hospitals, Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center and Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, have made strides in this area. Nurses from these hospitals have participated in a program called Speak for Success, which included 10 weeks of training with a speech pathologist to reduce accents and four seminars to increase the understanding of American culture.

Improving Communication for Everyone

When a student needs a particular accommodation, such as having directions repeated, many teachers use that accommodation for the entire class. That helps the student who needs it, but it may benefit other students, as well. In the same way, all employees, whether they have accents or not, must be aware of how they communicate with patients and patients’ families.

It’s easy for healthcare providers to fall into the habit of speaking “medicalese,” or the language of medicine. They think that way, chart that way and talk to each other that way – but it’s often lost on patients. It’s important to learn to communicate by not using … medicalese and be careful about not using jargon.

Communicate with a Leader in Healthcare Staffing

At 365 Healthcare Staffing Services, we specialize in the recruitment and placement of healthcare professionals in per diem, travel, and permanent assignments in healthcare facilities across the country. Communicate your needs to us, and we will help you meet them. Give us a call at 310.436.3650 today.