3 Methods to Nurture Relationships with Spanish-Speaking Patients


Research has proven that patients receive safer, more effective care when they are understood and feel a connection with their providers. This seems obvious but isn’t always so easy when there is a language barrier, explains healthcare language coach Meghan Codd, MA, and perioperative nurse Stella Yau, MSN, RN, CNOR.

There are so many nuances to understanding a patient’s needs, Codd says. And when you don’t speak the same language or understand a person’s cultural background, critical details might fall through the cracks.

A Growing Need for Spanish-Speaking Cultural Fluency

Through her coaching company Mi Vida Spanish (My Life Spanish), Codd helps medical professionals speak, connect, communicate, and build trust with Spanish-speaking patients and their family members. 

Codd helped Yau and her colleagues connect with their Spanish-speaking patients in San Diego, and the numbers suggest perioperative nurses across the country face a similar need.

Census data shows that 40 million Spanish speakers live in the US, and that number is expected to increase. Naturally, that creates a possible language barrier.

But that’s just the first step.

Yau says providing culturally fluent care is about understanding and integrating the intricacies of cultural backgrounds into the care delivery process. “We want to make our patients feel heard, cared for, and humanized.”

In a broader context, cultural fluency allows periop nurses to positively influence health behaviors and decision-making toward better outcomes.

If you're worried you don't have the time to learn a new language, Codd suggests that any perioperative nurse can promptly begin fostering relationships with Spanish-speaking patients through simple, yet culturally significant approaches.

  1. Start with Body Language

Non-verbal language is crucial in every interaction between a nurse and patient. Focus on making clear eye contact and offering a handshake or gentle touch on the arm when meeting a Spanish-speaking patient and their family members.

This will help make an immediate connection and build trust. 

  1. Learn Some “Go-To” Spanish Words and Phrases

“Hola, soy (your name). Mucho gusto. ¿Cómo se llama?” 

Translation: Hello, I’m _ (your name). Nice to meet you. What's your name?

This is a simple way to introduce yourself and ask your patient’s preferred name. 

When they share their name, take a moment to repeat the pronunciation. This way, as your patient wakes up from anesthesia, addressing them by their preferred name reduces confusion and reassures them of their safety. 

  1. Adopt an Attitude of Continued Learning

Achieving fluency in a new language requires practice, and perfection may not happen on the first try. Understand that any effort to communicate with a Spanish-speaking patient in their preferred language is likely to bring a smile to their face and put them more at ease.

Codd stresses, “the key is realizing Spanish communication isn’t about perfection, it’s about connection.”

Improve your cultural fluency with Codd and Yau during their education session, “Culturally Fluent Care: Nurturing Relationships with Spanish-Speaking Patients” at AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo 2024, March 9-12, in Nashville.

You can also check out national standards and CE for culturally and linguistically appropriate care.


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