Nurse Clinician Tiffany Qiu entered a patient’s cubicle recently and found him anxious. He was receiving medication through an intravenous pump and was nervous about the procedure.
But suddenly, something changed: The man, in his 80s, glanced at Ms. Qiu’s name tag and his face lit up.
“Oh, you speak Mandarin!” he exclaimed, before launching into an animated conversation with Ms. Qiu in that language. By the time the patient left, Ms. Qiu was able to not only put him at ease, but to share vital information on medication side-effects and appointment follow-ups in his mother tongue.
The exchange, which took place at the Jewish General Hospital’s Medical Day Hospital, was made possible by an initiative from the Nursing Directorate of CIUSSS West-Central Montreal. In a pilot project, professionals like Ms. Qiu are wearing tags that list the languages they speak, alongside their identity cards. In Ms. Qiu’s case, the card says Français, English, and, in Chinese characters, Mandarin.
The project is guided by the philosophy that language is a bridge to better patient care, and speaking a patient’s mother tongue can lead to improved outcomes during hospital visits.
“It’s beneficial for patients because it reassures them. It makes them feel welcome,” says Suzette Chung, Head Nurse in the Medical Day Hospital and a driving force behind the project. “It personalizes the patient experience and provides patient-centred care.”
In addition to the cards, the project features posters in several hospital units encouraging healthcare providers to ask patients whether they would prefer to communicate in French or English. French is provided throughout our healthcare network, and as a CIUSSS designated by the government as bilingual, English is offered as well.
“It personalizes the patient experience.”Suzette Chung
“We want to ensure that patients know they can be served in French or English, depending on their language of preference,” says Karine Lepage, Clinical-Administrative Coordinator in the Departments of Medicine and Oncology. “We also know that our CIUSSS welcomes a very multicultural clientele, and we felt it was a good opportunity to open a dialogue in other languages.”
In fact, the JGH lives up to its reputation as the United Nations of hospitals: A 2013 survey showed that patients came from 110 countries and spoke more than 90 languages; two thirds had a mother tongue other than French or English. In that context, the nurses say, their language tags are a big help.
“It can be confusing to navigate the healthcare system, especially if you’re an immigrant. If I can speak to them in their mother tongue, I help make sure they don’t fall between the cracks,” says Ms. Qiu. “This is a holistic approach to care.”
Nurse Clinician Yolanta Kicinska, whose name tag shows that she speaks Polish, says that she recently cared for a patient who had come to the Medical Day Hospital. She was so anxious about being inside a hospital that she began to cry.
But when the two realized they shared a common mother tongue, the patient relaxed. “I reassured her in Polish. She thanked me,” Ms. Kicinska recalls. “It lowered her anxiety and allowed her to express herself in a language she was comfortable in.”
Ms. Kicinska adds that Polish-born Holocaust survivors, many of whom are in their 90s, appreciate the opportunity to speak to Ms. Kicinska in her mother tongue. “They tell me they don’t get a chance to practice their Polish that often. Language becomes a connection.”
The project, which was rolled out first in the Medical Day Hospital and by the Discharge Planning Team, has expanded to 15 areas, including Emergency, Cardiology, Surgery and Maternity. The language cards have also been sent to staff in vaccination sites in our CIUSSS territory.
“If I can speak to them in their mother tongue, I help make sure they don’t fall between the cracks.”Tiffany Qiu
Besides the benefits for patient care, the project has showcased the diversity of our CIUSSS staff and the wealth of languages they speak. In the Medical Day Hospital alone, the eight nurse clinicians are able to collectively speak seven languages besides French and English, including Creole, Spanish and Tagalog. The Nursing Directorate has inventoried more than 30 languages spoken by staff across the CIUSSS, from Italian and Arabic to Hindi and Hebrew.
“This speaks to the beautiful diversity in our CIUSSS and our ability to serve patients in their language of preference,” says Ms. Lepage, who spearheaded the project in the Nursing directorate.
Suzannah Vanson, the Patient Partner volunteer in the Medical Day Hospital, says patients feel “safer and more supported” when a healthcare professional speaks to them in their language. She recalls receiving care a few years ago at the JGH, and became aware at one point that her attending nurse spoke Dutch, Ms. Vanson’s mother tongue.
“I automatically felt a deeper level of understanding. I connected in a different way,” she recalls. She adds that the name-tag initiative speaks to the JGH’s inclusiveness. “It’s a way of saying to people: We want to communicate with you, find what makes you feel comfortable, and give you good healthcare.”
To date, more than 1,000 language cards have been distributed to Nursing staff.