As the most recent U.S. Census points out, the Hispanic population is growing rapidly. In 2010, about 50.5 million Americans (16 percent of the total) were of Hispanic origin. That’s a big jump from 2000, when there were 35.3 million Hispanics or 13 percent of the total population.
If you are on the front lines of health care delivery, you’re undoubtedly noticed the change in your patient population as well. In order to communicate with Hispanics, it’s becoming increasingly important to have people on your staff who speak Spanish or habla español. However, not all healthcare organizations recognize the importance of language skills when recruiting, screening and hiring new employees. That’s particularly true in communities that had relatively low Hispanic populations until just a few years ago. In those cases, it’s vital for HR departments to recognize the shift in demographics and actively recruit a diverse staff that reflects the local community.
However, healthcare recruiters must also wrestle with the difficult question about what to do when a well-qualified physician, nurse or therapist is more fluent in Spanish - or another foreign language – than English. A candidate who has difficulties in understanding and responding to questions in English faces an uphill struggle in the hiring process – regardless of other credentials and qualifications. After all, no one wants there to be a misunderstanding about a patient diagnosis, treatment plan or prescription due to a language mix-up.
In this situation, it is essential for the job candidate to focus on improving his English skills and tell the recruiter that any language issues are likely to be temporary. A candidate who is fluent in Spanish should also emphasize the importance of hiring a professional with that skill set, perhaps citing the local demographic trends. In any case, it’s important for both healthcare professionals and organizations to understand the importance of multiple language capabilities in providing high-quality patient care.