Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 27, 2020

Healthcare Studies and Spanish

Healthcare Studies and Spanish: A job is waiting for you

By Dr. Kenneth Reeds (WLC) and Dr. Amy Everitt (Healthcare Studies)

The WLC department is currently collaborating with the Healthcare Studies department on a proposal for a joint BS in Spanish and Healthcare Studies, hoping to meet the need for Spanish-speaking healthcare workers in our region. The importance of healthcare studies in the regional economy was emphasized by Salem State University President John D. Keenan in a speech that he gave in Danvers on January 8, 2020. At the time he emphasized that on the North Shore “healthcare is a top employer” (Forman). In addition, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), healthcare occupations are projected to grow much faster than all other occupations; 14% from 2018-2028, which equates to 1.9 million new jobs.

One of the industry’s challenges is the inability of many healthcare professionals to communicate with patients in their native languages. Indeed, according to an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “language barriers are associated with less health education, worse interpersonal care, and lower patient satisfaction” (Quyen Ngo-Metzger et al.). Considering that this barrier produces so many negative outcomes, it is not surprising that a report published in 2017 found that healthcare is one of the industries with the greatest need for bilingual employees: “We found that demand for bilingual workers is especially high in certain industries, notably finance and healthcare” (“Not Lost in Translation”: 25). Specifically, the same report pointed to the large number of jobs focused on bilingual workers in the healthcare industry: “Healthcare is another sector with an especially high demand for bilingual workers. Taken together, five healthcare-related jobs -registered nurses, medical assistants, medical and health service managers, licensed practical and vocational nurses, and medical secretaries- accounted for 7.6 percent of the bilingual jobs listed in 2015” (“Not Lost in Translation”: 6). And what language are most of these job offers seeking? The report found that the demand for Spanish not only was growing, but that it far exceeded that of other languages:


Source: “Not Lost in Translation: The Growing Importance of Foreign Language Skills in the U.S. Job Market”

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has also provided compelling data concerning the need for Spanish speakers in the healthcare industry. Through their survey results, ACTFL has identified that the healthcare and social assistance sector relies on employees with foreign language skills “a lot”, at 41%, second only to the construction sector (see Figure 3 below). Employers also indicate that the demand for foreign language skills in the healthcare and social assistance sector has increased to 65%, with a similar demand predicted for the future (see Figure 6 below) (2019).


Source: ACTFL, p. 16


Source: ACTFL, p. 20

Data from the North Shore Workforce Investment Board using the Massachusetts Occupational Projections for 2012-2022 shows continued growth in healthcare services. Projections show a 24% increase for Health Educators, 22% for Community Health Workers, 21% for Medical and Health Service Managers, 19% for Medical Records and Health Information Technicians as well as Patient Advocates, 15% for Public Relations and Fundraising Managers, Public Relations Specialists, and 12% for Sales Representatives for Wholesale and Manufacturing and Technical and Scientific Products. The Boston area is rich in healthcare services, healthcare technology, as well as design, development and sales of medical equipment, technology, and pharmaceuticals.

Healthcare is also an important industry in Salem State University’s regional economy. It is an economic sector that is especially sensitive to language difficulties and this has resulted in a demand for bilingual employees across the field, and the language that is most growing in demand is Spanish.

Works Cited

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