Foreign-Born Nurses in Las Vegas Hospitals Face Language, Cultural Challenges
Many patients being treated at Las Vegas hospitals have raised concerns about communication problems with foreign-born nurses, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Foreign-born nurses working in the state's hospitals must pass language competency exams in order to be licensed, yet their English is "often heavily accented and they may not understand the nuances of American culture and lingo -- which can create challenges for patients and doctors," the Sun reports.
More than 15% of nurses in Nevada are trained in other countries, which is about five times the national average of 3.5%, according to a University of Nevada-Las Vegas expert. Many of the nurses are from Asian countries such as the Philippines, India, Japan and Korea. Medicare patient surveys have ranked the communication of nurses at some Nevada hospitals very poorly, according to the Sun. The surveys, however, do not include the nationality of the nurses providing the care.
Yu "Philip" Xu, a professor at UNLV's School of Nursing, has studied the effects of language barriers among foreign nurses in depth. Xu said language and communication problems can directly affect patients' quality of care. An estimated 100,000 people die annually in the U.S. as a result of medical errors, and it is believed that communication problems are the leading cause, the Sun reports. Xu said that it is unclear how foreign-born nurses contribute to the problem because the issue is rarely studied. His research has shown that foreign nurses have difficulty transitioning into the U.S. health care system.
Xu, in conjunction with the Nevada Nursing Board, has developed a 10-week training program called Speak for Success that seeks to help foreign-born nurses speak less-accented English and teach them about American culture.
Debra Scott, executive director of the Nevada Board of Nursing, said idioms have a significant effect on foreign nurses' ability to communicate effectively with patients. "It can be difficult for people who speak English-only to work with a nurse who has those cultural differences and an accent," she said. Scott added that since Las Vegas is such diverse city, foreign-born nurses can also be a benefit in care provided to patients of whom they have similar culture backgrounds.
Xu added, "We are not saying by any stretch that foreign nurses are not providing quality care. They are providing good care. But they do have challenges -- based on the literature and anecdotal evidence and my experience" (Allen, Las Vegas Sun, 3/10).