Impact of language barrier on acute care medical professionals is dependent upon role

J Prof Nurs. Nov-Dec 2006;22(6):355-8. doi: 10.1016/j.profnurs.2006.09.001.


Communication with patients is essential to providing quality medical care. The study was conducted to evaluate the effects of language barriers on health care professionals. It is hypothesized that these language barriers are commonly perceived by health care professionals and they are a source of workplace stress in acute care environments. We designed and distributed a survey tool of staff experiences and attitudes regarding the English-Spanish language barrier among patients in an acute care surgical environment of a tertiary medical center. Responses were anonymous, stratified by professional role and comparisons made using paired t tests. Sixty-one nurses and 36 physicians responded to the survey. Overall, 95% of nurses reported that the language barrier was an impediment to quality care, whereas 88% of physicians responded similarly (P = .0004). More nurses than physicians report experiencing stress (97% vs. 78%) and the degree of stress appears to be greater for nurses (P < .0001). The basis of stress was unique between the two groups. This study demonstrates that acute care hospital medical professionals perceive language barriers as an impediment to quality care delivery and as a source of workplace stress. Nurse and physician perceptions differ; therefore, strategies to address these language barriers should be specific to those professional roles. These barriers create a void in health care quality and safety that has effects on health care professionals.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Acute Disease / psychology
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Burnout, Professional / etiology
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Communication Barriers*
  • General Surgery
  • Hispanic or Latino / ethnology*
  • Humans
  • Kentucky
  • Medical History Taking
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Multilingualism*
  • Nurse's Role / psychology
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Nursing Assistants / psychology
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Perioperative Care / psychology
  • Perioperative Nursing
  • Physician's Role / psychology
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Quality of Health Care / standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / psychology